Page 1


for authorities to trace the contested ballots back to the folio strips to which they were once attached. In other words, the Mexican electoral process still lacks a mechanism to ensure accountability for each vote cast. In turn, then, anyone who might want to corrupt the electoral procedure would enjoy virtual immunity if only because fraudulent voters could never be traced back to specific voting booths or ballot pads. All this is not to say, however, that a great number of Mexican citizens did not take great pains to make sure the electoral procedure went as it should. The stamina and corn mitment of thousands of Mexican polling place officials who worked from as early as 7 a.m. to as late as midnight, without pay and with only a sandwich for lunch, was impressive. The elections of August 21 did not usher in a new regime as Mexicans had both hoped and feared with increasing intensity in the last few months. Instead, the vote granted the PRI another six-year lease on its 65-year reign, which makes it the longest-ruling single party in the world today. And aside from rumors that a cybernetic fraud on the level of an undetectable microchip would ultimately determine the out come of the election, the mechanical voting process itself marked a profound change, though one that fails to appear in the voting results. A foundation for an authentic democracy is quietly being laid, despite the PRI’s old habits of courtship and threats. Thousands of Mexicans spent their day of rest performing an exhausting civic duty as election officials, for which they were not paid. And voter participation reached 80 percent on the national average, a level we in the United States have not achieved for quite some time. For all that went wrong in the elections, something also finally went right. The People Watched BY LOUIS DUBOSE Monterrey, Mexico FORTY INTERNATIONAL election observers were scheduled to arrive at the observation-and-press center set up in the Salon Ancira, behind the Hotel Ancira in downtown Monterrey. Only 10 observers had arrived and been processed by the time our contingent of eight dragged in late on the afternoon before the August 21 election. Before the protracted documentation of our group even began, a couple from Austin and two professors and two students from the St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio had arrived. All the latest arrivals would be detained for hours before they could begin their drive back to the election observation locations they had selected on the border. Like the registration processwhich included several changes in required paperwork and procedure, as well as a midcourse change in Mexican sites where observers could pick up credentialsthe election observation itself was controlled agency responsible for conducting state and federal elections in Mexico. The IFE’s Monterrey center included four computers with huge data banks that election observers could use; nine fax machines; some 30 manual typewriters, each provided with paper and pencils; a slide projector and sound system for an audio-visual orientation program; a labyrinthine conventionfloor-style display that used huge color photos and items such as ballots, copies of the revised election code, and a new transparent ballot box, to guide visitors through Mexico’s revised election process; and a visitors’ lounge equipped with two televisions, one for constant playing of videocassettes on the election process and another on which observers could watch the local news, which included interviews conducted in the same room where observers sat waiting. A dozen IFE employees, mostly young women, served as the election-center staff and on the morning of the election a fullsized, air-conditioned bus was provided for a tour of “15 distinct polling places in Monterrey.” According to a letter received by some of our party several days before we departed for Mexico, and by some several days after we returned to Texas, the other election observation centers were located in Mexico City, Canctin \(an odd place to observe an juana and Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas. \(A package of material that would have been helpfulparty office addresses and phone numbers, polling place procedures, names of candidates and election officialswas placed in our hands by a courier at our Monterrey address midday The federal government had spent a huge sum of money on this project and so complete was the center where we were detained for four hours on the evening before the election, waiting for final approval from Mexico City, that it seemed the entire process could have been observed without leaving the building. And that might have been what the election commission preferred. Yet no one took advantage of that opportunity. So the data base, which included a wealth of demographic information but no numbers from the controversial 1988 presidential election, went unused. No one watched the slide show. And when the all-day bus trip got underway at 8:30 on the morning of the election, only one of the passenger seats was occupied, by a reporter writing about the foreign monitors, who said he had to see how the tour worked. But he only rode to the first stop, then set out on his own to cover the election independently, at the polls. “If they wanted people to monitor elections, it seems like they would have provided maps of polls in Monterrey,” said a young San Antonio schoolteacher who had ridden an overnight bus from the border and arrived at 3 a.m. on election day. FORTY KILOMETERS EAST of Monterrey, Villa de Garcia is a town once known for the Grutas de Garcia, the cool limestone caverns that made the town a regional tourist attraction. But over the past 15 years, foreign industry, like the Mercedes Benz plant, and huge poultry hatcheries and “grow-out” facilities, began to locate in Garcia. The recent arrival of big industry altered the character and demography of the region, making the town’s structure exactly opposite of what one would find in an American city. High-population-density workers’ colonias encircle Villa de Garcia, while large, older, single-family homes in the town sprawl across plots of land that could accommodate a dozen of the cramped cinder-block-and-tin houses occupied by workers’ families on the edge of town. “This town has changed,” explained a downtown restaurant owner, “the center of power in elections now is in the periferico.” It was in this perifericothe periphery of the city where Garcia’s new working class livesthat the municipal election would be won or lost; the town itself could only provide the swing vote. In Colonia Zapata, a working-class neighborhood on the edge of the town, voters turned out in large numbers for the 1988 presidential election to vote for Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and the coalition of progressive-left candidates that by this election had become the Democratic THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15