Luis’s Mandoki’s film Fraude: Mexico 2006 will be playing at MASS Moca tonight, with discussion to follow led by Williams Prof. Shawn Rosenheim. From the MASS Moca page:

Directed by the veteran Hollywood director Luis Mandoki (When a Man Loves a Woman and Message in a Bottle) this film, the third in our series of Lie! Cheat! Steal! Fake It! Docs documents the Mexican electoral process and in particular the virtual theft of the 2006 presidency by Felipe Calderón. Using original footage shot during the campaign period and at polling stations around Mexico on (and after) election day Mandoki attempts to portray the political environment of Mexico from the eyes of leftist supporters of the losing candidate and former mayor of Mexico City Andres Manuel López Obrador. In addition to his own footage Mandoki acquired 3,000 hours of ‘home-shot’ footage by Mexican citizens inside the polling stations and during the official review of vote tallies, bringing to light irregularities in the Mexican electoral process. The controversial director frames the documentary for a group of people who believe that something is wrong in the electoral process, a theme that many Americans will have no trouble understanding.

More description is on the MASS Moca page.

From my own comments to Prof. Rosenheim:

The events of July 2nd– were simply a shock. For if Obrador declared victory and said that the results as he had them were “irreversable,” by the Forth of July, all the talk that I heard from the cabinet was that ‘we had lost’ and that, for the good of the nation, Obrador was about to concede.

For that matter– Calderon’s campaign had strongly considered conceding within the hours before that. “Off the record,” still.

As I see it, Obrador had learned from 2000 and 2004 in the US. There was enough of a historical sense of events, that no election-night concession was going to occur, in a situation filled with questions.

By the forth and the fifth of July, the threads of evidence began to come in. When you compared the three audit documents — the totals printed on the tally sheet kept with each ballot box, turned into the electoral authority for the official count, and posted in front of the precincts (casillas)– they were not the same.

It would take weeks and months to get some idea. Eventually the electronic and central counts, would be shown not to fit the tally sheets turned in. The visual evidence turned in by Mandoki’s teams– the opened seals on the boxes, the preprinted ballots, unfolded (you cannot put a ballot into the box, without folding)– and so much more– it was Mandoki’s visual evidence, that finally convinced me.

In the end– the insidious thing about fraud– is how it twists reality. For if you could prove it, the game would be up. What I’m trying to say– the standard must be some kind of integrity, of the elections process, some guarantee of truth.

(Continues via ‘More’;  warning:  LONG)

More stories there– after 2000, this was an unmonitored election.

I wound up with a few hundred pages of statistics and information on my desk in the days that followed the elections. In the months that followed, this would balloon to thosands, as people tried to assemble the picture.

One key factor stands out. At the cassillas– after 2000, the parties had agree to a system in which any dispute would be decided by a three-way vote by the local representatives of each party. The flaw here was obvious– in many of the disputes, the opposition PAN and PRI representatives simply voted against the PRD representative.

An anecdote stands out from this. As this went on, there were a number of situations in which the evidence presented to the tribunals at the casillas was glaringly clear. In one of these, an old man tell of the evidence he presented– of being voted down– and protesting. The PAN representative turns to him, admits what the old man has said, and says drying in return, “but if you have a problem with our decision, you may take up your dispute, with the Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court turned us down as well, with the admonition that any further challenge would threaten governmental stability. And there is a history to this.

In ’08, or so, when Madero discussed the terms of free and open elections with Diaz, after Diaz’s long reign, they came to the issue of local electoral disputes.

This story is told in many ways— one, is that Diaz told Madero, somewhat mockingly, that if any of his representatives had issues with the process, they could of course take them to the Supreme Court.

As those versions go, Madero then breaks off the conversation, and leaves– to begin the groundwork of the revolution of 1910.

A bit of background might also be of use.

By the Spring of ’06, Obrador’s campaign had a very comfortable apparent lead of 20+ points. It created– great confidence, if not complacency.

At the end of June, Mitofsky was still telling us that we would win by 5% or more. No one was expecting an Obrador loss. And because the economic situation and so much else was critical– an administration was already being assembled. The Obrador government expected to begin the transfer of power on July 3rd. And the urgency of the situation meant– that process kept on going, in the abscence of an answer.

The way I might put it– the outside world saw Obrador’s defiance, or one of many other things. Internally, there was something more like– the need to govern and assemble a working administration in any case; and the need to address urgent issues.

Of course, being young, I had a great deal of optimism left. Those of us who were young, discussed what we might do, the things that could be built.

——————– — to fill in the biography, the firm he owns was created by Redvers Opie, a student of Keynes whom the British sent to Bretton Woods– and thus we get to the IMF and the other big players here– ——- reminded us of his pessimism, and that what we were trying to do, all we could do in the end was avoid disaster.

I’ve seen the disaster come to pass. Since the election, eight million Mexicans, out of a hundred or so, have fallen into poverty. That’s the same as if 25 million Americans– one in five employed– had fallen into poverty since the past election.

In 2005, I first started looking at the monthly cost-of-goods versus income figures produced by ———‘s shop. They were odd– they keep getting worse– and often it was clear that costs of basic goods in Mexico were far higher than the US.

When we look back to 1990 or so– it’s very hard to calculate compartive terms– but what we see is something like, the real purchasing power of the average Mexican is about one-third of what it was twenty years ago. This is complicated by the increased unemployment– employed workers have faired better– and by an enormous extension of credit– usually charged at well upwards of 30%/year.

So at the auto dealers on Insurgentes, you’ll see Fords for sale with 35% interested offered– the interest-free grace period is now 18 months. It’s hard to imagine how those loans will be paid off.

And so too the macroeconomics of Mexico’s debt and the current regime– hold on a few seconds for that.

The disaster– one can imagine laying it out in economic terms; in political terms; in terms of international relations; in terms of the history of Mexico; in terms the current global financial crisis; and so on. And then trying to synthesize across them.

In human terms, if you want Mexico– you have to begin by thinking of being in the US, and everything– food, transport, communications, education– costing four times as much.

Of course that’s happened a little in the US– real income has also gone down– perhaps as much as 40%. The situations are parallel, and structured by the same forces and events.

In terms of what was at stake in the election of 2006, Mexico needed to acheive a series of macroeconomic reforms to maintain, essentially, the solvency that would allow it to conduct infrastructure (rebuilding), educational and social stability programs. Federal spending simply had to be cut 5% across the board– there was no option, if you looked at the budget/debt figures. PeMex, the national petroleum utility, needed to be reformed– essentially fixed– because Mexico had, at great expense, began to import oil due to mismanagement. And so on.

At the microeconomic level, there were a series of reforms and adjustments– too long to list– but the core of things here lies in the fact that Mexico has never really experienced the change we refer to as “neoliberalism,” and the productivity and prosperity this brings. If Obrador tends to speak of an alternative to neoliberalism, what I was this as was more of a controlled neoliberalism.

Of course, a lot of history has occured since then– one might say that the legitimacy of neoliberalism, in its hands-off approach, has collapsed. That seems to be coming out of Washington, and the other Central Banks– which were, after all, looking for an alternative to the Washington model. But at this point we’d seem to be ranging a little far from Mexico itself.

Maybe not. Sitting here next to the World Trade Center in Mexico City, I just turned backed to the American Towns webpage which I first saw Fraude advertized playing at MassMOCA.

The wording in American Towns is that “the four films uncover stories of the ruthless nature of the world economy and the effects of a society that has an insatiable hunger for money, power and success.” I’ve just spent a few hours, thinking about that phrasing.

If Keynes is at play in these events, we might set three other authors nearby. Marx, of course, who saw capitalism “creative destruction” as a sort of liberation theology, breaking the chains of provincialism, local custom and superstitution. George Sand, who described the forces that she saw destroy so much of the lifeways of rural France, as “La Mare Au Diable–” a sea of the devil. And finally Mary Shelley, who in Frankenstein presented the modern world as a monster we cannot control.

The MassMOCA texts bring out two important aspects of the situation– first, that the Obrador in person, whom Mandoki came to know through talking, was and is quite different from the “leftist-rabble-rouser” portrayed in the Media and elsewhere (I quote a CIA agent– to give you an idea of one source of that characterization); second, that it ‘almost seemed that Obrador could not win,’ against the forces we faced.

Let me clarify my CIA comment– part of this mess, the disaster, was that US “informational security” (propaganda) apparatus, after identifying Obrador, and pretty much else every other Latin American leader, as a “communist threat,” in this case “threatening to extend a tide of leftism to our southern border,” — the well-crafted lie which I’ve just recited played heavily in the last month of the election, and still threatens the US’s understanding of what is happening in the Latin Americas.

The stupidity– the utter arrogant ignorance– of this intervention in a foreign election– not only was it wrong– it was just stupid, because it had no idea what Obrador and his movement was– and of course, if the US Intelligence agencies talked to each other and shared information, they would have found that they had people, who had talked to Obrador’s people, and understood a little more of what was going on, and that they could have a discussion.

Of course, I also have to mention that the United States is country in which the FBI has to wonder about whether it is being targeted by CIA covert operations. This should boggle the mind, if so much weren’t at stake.

US State has been coming to grips with this a little. If you look the history of the new US Ambassador to Mexico, you’ll at least see that the Obama administration has something right.

So I’ve just given one big thing– and one big lie– that the Obrador campaign was up against.

I have, of course, had a lot of time to think about all the other things that Obrador was up against. I’m going to skip the media— as much as media corruption is important, and terrible, and was critical here– because I want to talk about the ballot, and the ballot box.

I walked around Mexico City, to see the casillas, on the morning of the election and again in the days afterwards. The first visual evidence were the tally sheets, in front of the polling stations. What was missing then, was the explanation.

One explanation is simply– if it can be corrupted, in an election, it will be. If ballot boxes are left under the supervision of one person– a member of only one party– the temptation is too great– especially if the tempation may be backed with money, or threats or worse. If the ballot box itself is not preserved by a clear, constant chain of protection– then it becomes too easy, to compromise the ballot box. And so on.

The UN elections experts that I spoke to put it this way– the Mexican IFE authorities, who designed the election in 2006, didn’t know what could go wrong. Even ignoring their connections to the PAN, they didn’t understand all the things that could go wrong in an election– all the forms of tampering– and because there were little to no protections in place, tampering occurred.

From the initial tally sheets which I saw, to Mandoki’s teams photographing the state of the casillas– we have a sort of visual account, of an election, and of democracy, in tatters. Living through it, looking at the pictures of the polling places– that is where hope failed, and tears begin. By the time Mandoki documented the scope of the corruption of the process, at the local level, and we’d reached October and November, there was nothing but the terrible images of the hopes of democracy, torn apart — in Mandoki’s literal images, of shelf after shelf of ballot boxes, mysteriously torn open.

By now, nearly four years after the election, I can make a decent case that the election was stolen. I can talk a bit about fraudulent elections worldwide, how they occur, under what circumstances, and about the techniques of fraud. The United States is hardly without its problems, in these regard. I’ve had time to assemble facts, and understanding.

But of course– at the end of an election night– in the days and weeks and months afterward– you don’t have that kind of time. What seems important to me is that we understand the electoral process and what can go wrong in it– and what democracy is and how it relates to elections– before everything has fallen apart. And that this understanding is based in a consideration of what intergrity is, in place of fraud.

In terms of Mexico 2006– we know, for instance, that Mexico in 1988 was simply thrown by the sitting President, who declared that the computers had crashed, started burning the records, and ten days later, with troops in the streets, announced “the winner.” There is certainly reason to suspect similar machinations on the part of Vincente Fox in 2006, if not quite such a brazen cover-up.

But a centralized conspiracy– what I’m pointing to, is probably not. Rather a series of factors, all distorting an outcome.

1994 — probably the same. We thought 2000 was a model election– it may have been. If we move backwards from 1988, we have the rule of the PRI, back to the 1930s. And that puts us on the edge of a larger discussion of the Mexican Republic and the state of democracy in Mexico, which you’re lucky I don’t have time for tonight (past bedtime).

Fraud– Fraude– what I wanted to get to, a long time before this– is some sense of what Fraud is, of its effects, without the ideology of world markets and politics and the like. I haven’t layed it out as clearly as I wished– or been able to edit this down– or give you some of the personal examples– though I hope I’ve layed out, some of what was at stake– except for the one CIA reference, I have to leave out a good deal of the intrigue.

I’ll try one personal detail, to get at Fraud, and election fraud. During all of this, I walked through the Zocalo, Mexico City’s central public square, during the public Assamblea and the inauguration of Obrador and his provisional government. People would stop me, as we walked through, with those signs you will see, which said things such as “don’t let them steal my vote.” I got to talk to a number of them– I can only only try to breifly express, what moments of hope these were, for those people.

What is at stake in Fraud? If we take democracy to be a truly representative process– something akin to film– something that creates reality– then what does it mean to truly shortcut or corrupt that process? (We’re back to Errol Morris!).

Even if the process is imperfect– fraud takes something away, warps reality and what otherwise would have been, deceives– affects our consciousness itself– attacks our understanding. I probably haven’t conveyed that well, or how that happened in these events well– I’ll need another few revisions– but that’s how this story, in Mexico, fits into the larger story of “Lie, Cheat, Steal.”

If you’ve made it this far– my apologies for not having time for a shorter, clearer version. I wish you a good discussion, and of course also wish I could have been there for it. Hope to see you in Williamstown.

Yours,

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