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In Mexico's `Fair' Election, PRI's Cash Spoke Volumes

MANY viewed the peaceful voting in Mexico on Aug. 21 and quickly judged the election a success. What they saw was a massive turnout of more than 75 percent of the electorate; voters who were able to mark their ballots and have them counted in what appeared to be a well-organized and untainted process.

These observers saw only what the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its domestic and foreign allies wanted them to see: just the surface of what, in truth, was a travesty of an election. Sadly, it was a pre-planned fraud, widely undemocratic, which served the purposes of the few at the expense of the many.

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Hundreds of foreign visitors continue to question the validity of the Mexican election process. Most of them came as guests of the Civic Alliance, a group of more than 300 nongovernmental organizations that has exposed sufficient irregularities to place the election results in doubt. Even without the final verdict of the Civic Alliance (which has no legal effect), there is no way that the Mexican electoral process could be considered clean, fair, or democratic.

According to several sources, the PRI's presidential candidate, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, who has been declared the winner with a plurality of 48.87 percent of the vote, spent $1.25 billion on his campaign, 20 times the legal limit. That kind of spending was obscene. With a vote count of 17,336,324, each Zedillo vote cost the Mexican people $72.10.

The only real opposition candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, had $4 million to spend; his cost per vote was $0.68. By comparison, both Bill Clinton and George Bush were limited by law to $50 million each in 1992 and their costs per vote were $1.14 and $1.31 respectively.

While spot advertising on television for the opposition was nonexistent, ads for Mr. Zedillo and other PRI candidates were shown for months at practically every programming break. The owner of Mexico's TV monopoly, Televisa, openly supports the PRI to such an extent that its channels' newscasts falsely associated Mr. Cardenas with violence; it also favored Zedillo and the PRI with coverage so biased that had it been a station in any democratic country it would have lost its license. Instead, Televisa has just been awarded concessions for two new channels.

The PRI has been in power for so long and is so entrenched as the government party that its local bureaucrats know exactly which people depend on the PRI/government for jobs, scholarships, contracts, and a wide range of social programs. It is no secret that many of these beneficiaries are told to vote for the PRI, ``or else.''

In addition, someone made a political decision not to use voting machines; instead, paper ballots were folded and placed in the ballot boxes in front of representatives of the parties. That gives the voter the opportunity to prove his loyalty by showing his marked ballot to the PRI representative before depositing it.

Prior to the election, the PRI's largess was enormous. The party gave away electrical appliances in middle-class neighborhoods, fruit baskets in poor barrios, and cash in rural areas. It threatened not to pave streets if the people didn't vote for it. Those are cases of which I am personally aware.

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In the troubled southern state of Chiapas, many say they were forcibly kept from the polls, and trucks filled with PRI-marked ballots were reportedly found.

Maybe the PRI would have won even without all the ``irregularities.'' But Mexicans really want a change; this time they were just bombarded and pressured to be afraid.

Aside from the constant proliferation of Mexican billionaires (there are now 24, behind only the United States, Germany, and Japan), how will the continuation of the PRI's monopoly-oriented economic policies affect Mexico and the US?

With the perpetuation of the government/PRI's six-year dictatorships, the main Mexican state-sponsored union (in reality, an arm of the PRI) will remain. Within the party structure, this union is obliged to be subservient to the wishes of the Mexican president. Under the current North American Free Trade Agreement-oriented command to keep wages low, workers have the choice of being submissive or losing their jobs. The US minimum wage is $4.25 an hour; in Mexico it's less than $4.25 a day. That's what approximately one-third of the Mexican work force makes, and no real improvement is expected. There are three main consequences:

1. Bankers, international investors, and the US ambassador to Mexico all think the status quo is just fine. Low wages will attract industry, period.

2. US unions know that low wages in Mexico can't help but depress wages in the US labor market. That's why they will remain opposed to NAFTA.

3. Since Mexico will now retain its permanently poverty-stricken underclass with little chance for upward mobility, there will be fewer-than-expected customers for US exports. On less than $4.25 a day, it's beans and tortillas - no luxuries.

The entrenched Mexican politicians, the ``dinosaurs,'' won on Aug. 21. A few others will also make fortunes - with little ``trickle down'' (only sideways to the bank).

For the majority, both in Mexico and in the US, plain and simple - we lost. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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