11 March 2004

Ex-President in Mexico Casts New Light on Rigged 1988 Election

On election night 1988, Mr. de la Madrid said, the secretary of the interior advised him that the initial results were running heavily against the PRI. The public demanded returns, Mr. de la Madrid wrote. And rather than giving them, the government lied and said the computer system tabulating the votes had crashed.

This was the advice to Mr. de la Madrid from the president of the PRI: 'You have to proclaim the triumph of the PRI. It is a tradition that we cannot break without causing great alarm among the citizens.'

As midnight approached, Mr. de la Madrid learned that the leading opposition candidates were preparing to add more confusion to the outcome of the election by each declaring himself the winner. The PRI, he decided, had to pre-empt them, and without any official vote count, the president of the PRI declared his party the winner. A beleaguered Mr. Salinas did not show his face until the next day.

'The electoral upset was a political earthquake for us,' Mr. de la Madrid wrote. 'As in any emergency, we had to act because the problems were rising fast. There was not a moment for great meditation, we needed agility in our response to consolidate the triumph of the PRI.'

Three years later, in an alliance between the PRI and the conservative National Action Party, the Mexican Congress ordered the ballots of the 1988 election burned, and the only hard evidence of the fraud committed that July night went up in smoke.

The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (the name sounds as strange in Spanish as in English) held power from 1929 until 2000. It continues to control a majority of Mexico's states and is a significant presence in the Mexican federal congress. 1988 was important. Salinas held the presidency until 1992 and launched Salinastroika, a policy of slow political reform and fast economic reform. Part of that was a remarkably elegant strategy of losing enough state governorships to the opposition to give a democratic face to the PRI's dominance, but restricting the opposition's gains to the rightwing PAN instead of the leftwing PRD. After his retirement it was learned he had also engaged in a program of vast enrichment for himself, relatives and cronies and may have ordered the assassination of his own successor as PRI leader. Salinas was the smiling face of the Washington Consensus in Latin America, at one stage he was a serious candidate for WTO director-general.

The legitimate president, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas (named after his father, who nationalised Mexico's oil in 1938 and the last Aztec emperor) would have followed radically different policies, would have most likely opposed NAFTA, and perhaps looked a lot like Brazil's Luiz In�cio Lula da Silva but a decade earlier. When the PRI finally lost power in 2000 it was to PAN, not C�rdenas' PRD.

Naturally those who alleged the 1988 election was stolen were all denounced as conspiracy theorists by Mexico's Priista oligarchs.

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