Stealing Mexico


Friday, June 30, 2006

Bush Team Helps Ruling Party "Floridize" Mexican Presidential Election

by Greg Palast

Friday, June 30 -- GEORGE Bush's operatives have plans to jigger with the upcoming elections. I'm not talking about the November '06 vote in the USA (though they have plans for that, too). I'm talking about the election this Sunday in Mexico for their Presidency.

It begins with an FBI document marked, "Counterterrorism" and "Foreign Intelligence Collection" and "Secret." Date: "9/17/2001," six days after the attack on the World Trade towers. It's nice to know the feds got right on the ball, if a little late.

What does this have to do with jiggering Mexico's election? Hold that thought.

Hunting for Terrorists in Latin AmericaThis document is what's called a "guidance" memo for using a private contractor to provide databases on dangerous foreigners. Good idea. We know the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf Emirates. So you'd think the "Intelligence Collection" would be aimed at getting info on the guys in the Gulf.

No so. When we received the document, we obtained as well its classified appendix. The target nations for "foreign counterterrorism investigation" were nowhere near the Persian Gulf. Every one was in Latin America -- Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and a handful of others.

Latin America?! Was there a terror cell about to cross into San Diego with exploding enchiladas?

All the target nations had one thing in common besides a lack of terrorists: each had a left-leaning presidential candidate or a left-leaning president in office. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, bete noir of the Bush Administration, was facing a recall vote. In Mexico, the anti-Bush Mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was (and is) leading the race for the Presidency.

Most provocative is the contractor to whom this no-bid contract was handed: ChoicePoint Inc. of Alpharetta, Georgia. ChoicePoint is the database company that created a list for Governor Jeb Bush of Florida of voters to scrub from voter rolls before the 2000 election. ChoicePoint's list (94,000 names in all) contained few felons. Most of those on the list were guilty of no crime except Voting While Black. The disenfranchisement of these voters cost Al Gore the presidency.

Having chosen our President for us, our President's men chose ChoicePoint for this sweet War on Terror database gathering. The use of the Venezuela's and Mexico's voter registry files to fight terror is not visible -- but the use of the lists to manipulate elections is as obvious as the make-up on Katherine Harris' cheeks.

In Venezuela, leading up to the August 2004 vote on whether to re-call President Chavez, I saw his opposition pouring over the voter rolls in laptops, claiming the right to challenge voters as Jeb's crew did to voters in Florida. It turns out this operation was partly funded by the International Republican Institute of Washington, an arm of the GOP. Where did they get the voter info from?

In that case, access to Venezuela's voter rolls didn't help the Republican-assisted drive against Chavez, who won by a crushing plurality.

In Mexico this Sunday, we can expect to see the same: challenges of Obrador voters in a race, the polls say, is too close to call. Not that Mexico's rulers need lessons from the Bush Administration on how to mess with elections.

In 1988, the candidate for Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution (PDR), who opinion polls showed as a certain winner, somehow came up short against the incumbent party of the ruling elite. Some of the electoral tricks were far from subtle. In the state of Guerrero, the PDR was leading on official tally sheets by 359,369. Oddly, the official final count was 309,202 for the ruling party, only 182,874 for the PDR. Challenging the vote would have been dangerous. Two top officials of Obrador's party were assassinated during the campaign.

Crucial to the surprise victory of the ruling party was the introduction of computer voting machines and the centralization of voter databases. Observer Andrew Reding of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported that ruling party operatives had special access codes denied the opposition.

Whether the US "War on Terror" lists will find a use in Sunday's election, we cannot know. But the use of American government resources to interfere in south-of-the-border campaigns is an open secret. The GOP's International Republican Institute has run training sessions for the PAN youth wing, funded by US taxpayers through the "National Endowment for Democracy."

Foreign -- that is, American -- interference in political campaigns is a crime. That didn't stop Team Bush. However, when the theft of its citizen files was discovered, Argentina threatened to arrest ChoicePoint contractors until the company returned the tapes -- and Mexico's attorney general did in fact arrest the ChoicePoint data thieves to avoid his party from looking too much the stooge of its Washington patron. Whether George Bush gave back his copy, no one will say.

Wholesale theft is expected on Sunday in forms both subtle and brutal. How the US' purloined "counterterrorism" lists will be used, we don't know. We are certain however, that the Administration did not siphon off these Latin voter files to fight a War on Terror. It appears, rather, part of the Bush Administration's and GOP's hemispheric War on Democracy -- along a battle line which runs from Florida to Ohio to Juarez.

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For as-it-happens reporting on the Mexican election, check www.GregPalast.com for dispatches from our team investigator Special Correspondent Matt Pascarella with video journalist Rick Rowley in Mexico City.

Special thanks to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Washington DC, which received and passed on to our team the FBI ChoicePoint files and other foreign intelligence documentation.

Get your copy of Palast's new book, Armed Madhouse, at www.GregPalast.com

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