Wednesday, July 12, 2006
THEFT OF AN ELECTION: MEXICO
By Greg Palast
GREG PALAST: July 3rd, I was in my office in London when the phone rang. It was Mexico City. I was told, "Take a look at the Mexican papers." The exit polls in the presidential election there showed a clear win for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the left wing's candidate for president, but the official count gave the election to George Bush's ally, Felipe Calderon, of the rightwing ruling party, the PAN. Hmmm. Exit polls that don't match the official vote count. I had heard that story before.
In Ohio in 2004, John Kerry led Bush in the exit polls, and in 2000, Al Gore won in the Florida exit polls. But in both cases, George Bush won in the official count.
So I booked the first flight out to Mexico City to answer the question: 'Did Felipe Calderon of the conservative PAN, the party in power, win the presidential election fairly or was this just another Florida con salsa?' The official numbers just didn't add up. So my first stop was to meet one of Mexico's top numbers experts, statistician Victor Romero of Mexico's National University. Dr. Romero had charted the official government elections returns from each of Mexico's 113,000 voting stations.
VICTOR ROMERO: The way I did this was, a friend of mine, that he had the results second by second.
GREG PALAST: Well, randomly, this can't happen.
VICTOR ROMERO: Can't happen.
GREG PALAST: So what did happen then? Beside -- there's a miracle here.
VICTOR ROMERO: It's a miracle.
GREG PALAST: How did the miracle occur?
VICTOR ROMERO: How did the miracle occur? I don't know.
GREG PALAST: On a computer printout, Dr. Romero showed how the official tallies matched the exit polls, with challenger Lopez Obrador ahead by 2% all night. That is, until the very end, when several precincts came in for the ruling party by 10-to-1, and then 100-to-1, putting their candidate Felipe Calderon over the top, literally in the last minutes. The doctor found that statistically improbable.
VICTOR ROMERO: We reached the point I said, "It's over." But then, from 71% 'til the very end, there was not a single moment in which the difference from one report to the next became bigger.
GREG PALAST: So it didn't change at all. Just was perfect.
VICTOR ROMERO: Perfect, perfect. And so we just couldn't believe it. I mean, it fell -- with 5% to go, it fell one full point.
GREG PALAST: So then, what happened?
VICTOR ROMERO: Another miracle. Statistically, it's a second miracle. But now it is --
GREG PALAST: Well, are you a religious man?
VICTOR ROMERO: I'm not a religious man.
GREG PALAST: So you don't believe in miracles?
VICTOR ROMERO: No, but other people do, so, you know. They say that it works even if you don't believe in them, so.
GREG PALAST: The results may not seem so miraculous if you take a look at these voter sheets. This is from a district in Guanajuato, which shows that Calderon picked up 192 votes, but Obrador, the challenger, got only 12. And here's how this miraculous total can be explained. We were given a videotape of a poll worker, seen here stuffing ballots into the unguarded cardboard ballot box. Mexico has virtually zero ballot security in rural areas. There is no system for accounting for unused paper ballots. Stuffing them into the cardboard boxes is absurdly easy.
Despite the evidence of ballot stuffing, the conflict with exit polls and the miraculous returns, the Federal Election Commission in Mexico named Calderon the winner by a margin thin as a tortilla, by less than 0.5%. The rush to announce a winner was all the more surprising given the wave of other reported irregularities. This is Cesar Yanez who directed the campaign for Lopez Obrador's party, the PRD. He noted there were 300,000 fewer votes for president than for senator, a drop-off that voting experts say never happens without fraud. Yanez guessed maybe they ate their votes.
The Federal Election Commission's rush to announce a winner caught my attention because of the astonishingly high pile of supposedly uncountable votes: nearly one million blank unreadable ballots, four times the alleged margin of victory. The smell of Florida was unmistakable. In the 2000 U.S. election, Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris stopped a hand count of 179,000 supposedly blank ballots. Mexico's Electoral Commission, taking the exact same stance as Harris, is refusing to have a public hand count of those supposedly blank one million ballots.
Yanez noted that the commission agreed to open a fragment of 1% of the ballot packets. In most cases, ballots that were totaled as blank were, in fact, votes for Obrador. Each box opened produced enough newfound votes for Obrador that opening all the boxes should statistically change the outcome of the election. But all the boxes won't be opened. The ruling party, the PAN, and the Electoral Commission refuse a full public recount, and the government says that it's over.
Felipe Calderon and his ally George Bush say it's all over, but there are hundreds of thousands of people here who say, not until all the votes are counted one by one. On Saturday, half a million Obrador supporters filled the capital to make one simple demand: voto pro voto, count every vote.
We've come here to the ruling party's compound to ask Felipe Calderon exactly why he doesn't want to count all the votes.
"Mr. Calderon, why not count all the ballots?" would be a question from England.
Calderon gave me the brush-off, but the man tipped to be his foreign minister, Arturo Sarukhan, defended his man.
ARTURO SARUKHAN: There is a process called the rule of law in this country, and it is not to be used willy-nilly to bend depending on whether you fancy the results of an election or you don't fancy the results of an election. What we have said is that we are convinced that what was not obtained through the ballot box should not be obtained through the streets.
GREG PALAST: But in Washington, President Bush was too impatient for the full vote count. While the European Union was waiting for a full legal review, Bush called Calderon to congratulate him on his victory, and evidence suggests that George Bush may have secretly tried to help in that victory. We have obtained from U.S. FBI files a copy of a secret government contract with a private firm, ChoicePoint of Alpharetta, Georgia. ChoicePoint, you may recall, is the company that provided a list to Katherine Harris in 2000, which permitted her office to wrongly scrub thousands of African Americans from Florida voter rolls.
ChoicePoint, this document indicates, was back in the vote list business in Mexico at the request of the Bush administration. While the cover of their September 2001 contract says it is to gather intelligence for counterterrorism investigations, the still classified appendix, which we have, clarifies that the contract is limited to gathering citizen files and voter lists of Latin American nations, specifically those nations which have leftist presidents or leading leftist candidates for president.
The company, we have learned, did, in fact, obtain the voter files of Venezuela and Mexico for the FBI. It's difficult to imagine how these files will help in the war on terror, but they can be very useful in influencing Latin American elections. And, indeed, we filmed voters in Mexico who found themselves mysteriously scrubbed from voter rolls.
SCRUBBED VOTER: I wasn't able to vote. I wasn't on the list. I waited seven hours here for nothing, seven hours in the rain, seven hours hungry, just so the electoral representatives could laugh at me. The Electoral Commission is a real fraud. I tell you that as a Mexican.
GREG PALAST: In Mexico City, I met with an Obrador supporter who discovered that, in fact, the ruling party, the PAN, had somehow got a hold of the voter files. She discovered this information after she obtained the secret passwords to the party's website from a whistleblower. We were not allowed to film her face.
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: I can't tell you how they were using this information, but I can assure you this is illegal. This is a crime.
GREG PALAST: Are you aware of the fact that a contractor for George Bush and the U.S. FBI obtained all these citizen files?
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: Yes, ChoicePoint was the name of the company who got that. Yes, we were aware of that.
GREG PALAST: But we don't know where this information comes from?
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: We know that it's in the official page of the candidate.
GREG PALAST: But they're not supposed to have these for these purposes?
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: No, no, no. They're not supposed to have it. And, of course, they are by no way supposed to use it. That's a crime.
GREG PALAST: But it could be very helpful.
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: Well, much more than we ever thought.
GREG PALAST: She showed me on a computer how to get into the hidden pages of the PAN's website.
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: This was Calderon's page, right? If you go into the user hildebrando117 and you typed in the password, you could type your name, any name. You could find all her information, where she lives, where she stay, or everything. These are the electoral votes.
GREG PALAST: Our source believes that the vote-counting software was key to the election victory. She showed us proof that the candidate's brother-in-law was paid to write the vote-counting software.
Was the election stolen?
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: Yes, we can be sure of that. The election was definitely stolen. And people should be there counting the votes one by one. Democracy doesn't have a time limit.
GREG PALAST: Thank you very much for your time.
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: Thank you.
GREG PALAST: We promise not to show your face.
OBRADOR SUPPORTER: Thank you.
GREG PALAST: Why would the Bush administration be so concerned about the presidency of Mexico? There are many issues, but one stands out. It's the oil.
DEMONSTRATOR 1: We have to fight to defend our oil so they don't take it to another country. Lopez Obrador is going to fight for what we haven't been able to fight for.
DEMONSTRATOR 2: We have to save our oil. The oil is ours. It belongs to Mexicans.
GREG PALAST: Mexico sells more oil to the U.S.A. than Saudi Arabia. Leftist Lopez Obrador has stood steadfast against allowing U.S. oil companies to own any part of the Mexican oil system. The PAN, however, has suggested allowing the U.S. oil majors to have a stake in the Mexican oil operations.
PAN SUPPORTER: We want a country where people aren't persecuted for being rich. People who work have the right to live well. And people who don't work, too bad, tough luck.
GREG PALAST: This week, I hung around Mexico City, waiting for the inevitable concession speech from Obrador. In the face of ruling party intransigence over recounting the votes, he had no choice but to follow the path of Al Gore and John Kerry: concede defeat. While killing time in a dive with some loud mariachis, I ran into filmmaker Luis Mandoki, Obrador's film biographer. Over chicken mole, he told me that Obrador was of a different character than his U.S. counterparts.
LUIS MANDOKI: The difference between AMLO and Gore or Kerry is the people. He said, "If I wanted, I could stop the country tomorrow. I can. I can block airports, communications, highways. I'm never going to do that. That's not good for the people." He's somebody who is very prudent, very careful. But at the same time, he said, "But I'm not going to let him get it, because I won the election." I mean, neither Gore nor Kerry had that connection with the country, which he does. And that's where his strength comes from.
GREG PALAST: He invited me to meet with Obrador the next day. When Mandoki introduced me to the candidate, I asked the upbeat Obrador what he would do if the ruling party simply refused to count the votes.
If they refuse to count the vote, what are you going to do?
"Espera," he said, "wait" for my answer. It came later that day, before thousands of his chanting supporters. He's saying we won't give up. We won't concede. The election is a fraud. And we will fight in the courts and in the streets peacefully. And he called for his supporters to march from each of the 300 voting districts to the capital beginning Wednesday. Two million are expected to arrive in Mexico City this weekend to demand a recount. They say it's not over. The fat lady hasn't sung, not until all ballots are counted, vote by vote.
The film, "Florida con Salsa: Vote Fraud in the Mexican Election -- A Greg Palast report," is produced by Rick Rowley and filmed by Rowley and Jacquie Soohen (Big Noise Films). Matt Pascarella contributed to this investigation. www.GregPalast.com
Greg Palast is the Author the New York Times Bestseller: Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf, China Floats, Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left, and other Dispatches from the Frontlines of a Class War.
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