My internship in the Canadian Embassy in Mexico presented formidable learning opportunities to build a sound foundation for a promising professional future. I was a stagier in the congressional affairs section in 2000, where I encountered prominent Mexicans politicians, government officials, foreign dignitaries and other interesting personalities in the diplomatic circle. I played a leading role in organizing embassy-sponsored events such as academic conferences, high-profile visits and the Terry Fox Run, a proud homage to a great Canadian icon. It was an honour to collaborate with experienced, competent public servants and passionate locally-engaged staff. I developed a thorough academic background of many Mexico-Canada relations topics yet I never expected to take part – even though it was quite a minor one – in the evolution of Mexico’s political history.
|Arriving in Tixtla to get my monitoring on|
In June, I took advantage of an internal volunteering opportunity in the Embassy to partake in the Mexican presidential elections as an international electoral observer. President Ernesto Zedillo’s mandate was soon to expire, marking 70 years of PRI [Partido Revolucionario Institucional] controversially uninterrupted rule since the last shot was fired ending the revolution. The party’s track record included years of vote buying (gifting goods and favours in exchange for a vote), electoral fraud, suspected murders, diverse forms of intimidation and many other delinquent activities that share more similarities with organized crime. As a side note, I strongly recommend a Mexican movie called "Herod’s Law" (La Ley deHerodes) which can give an excellent overview of the overall political system and some of the previously mentioned illicit behaviour. Certainly Mexicans were always yearning for a tidal wave bringing about change after the every new PRI manipulated victory however, when the party returned to power the national coffers continued to benefit the minuscule ruling elite.
I chose to cover remote areas in the state of Guerrero - on the Pacific coast - a part of the country often recognized for Acapulco, a world class tourist destination. Although I did get a few minutes to dip my feet in the refreshing embrace of the ocean waters, most of my billable time was dedicated to venturing into Chilpancingo, the state capital and smaller towns in the interior. This rugged terrain was notoriously renown for PRI electoral fraud and sporadic EPR guerrilla incursions – not the kind with the dung-flinging hefty monkeys, but leftist insurgents with Kalashnikovs. The locals shared much in common with the average Latin American campesino, which amounts to owning a whole lot of nothing. They are simple folk quarantined in the isolated countryside and unfortunately, easy to persuade as their modus operandi is constantly set to survival mode. Their level of education is relatively nonexistent and traditionally voted for the PRI due to colour association between the party's logo and their national flag. It made sense for them and it was the patriotic choice come election day.
The most curious happening in my expedition monitoring the democratic process ocurred in a small town called, Chilapa de Alvarez – not often you find a town with a first and last name. I was observing a makeshift polling station propped up in the middle of the zocalo (town square). These were two flimsy dining room tables some good Samaritans provided with big white boxes sporting an IFE tattoo – the national non-partisan electoral body - resting on them while two indigenous women sat behind, bored out of their minds. The extreme heat and humidity of a jungle-like environment tends to do that, even to locals. Everything was peaceful without a soul around town, perhaps due to the ley seca – no alcohol allowed come election time - when out of the blue, a run down, rusty old turquoise and yellow school bus pulled into the square. The door squeaked open, releasing a dozen men dressed like bandidos wearing sunglasses. They proceeded dancing in a straight line through the square, the polling station and back around into the bus leaving nothing else behind than a thick repulsive body odour stench. Not a single person in the town seemed to care or notice this had just happened.
|Observing a polling station in Chilpancingo|
In general, it appeared as if the elections had in fact been clean - or much cleaner than usual. President Zedillo seemed keen distance himself from the old days of dirty tricks. There were some odd instances where polling stations in Guerrero were inside a building with political party propaganda decorating its exterior or people working in the polls feeling nervous when they saw my team approach bearing IFE badges and observer credentials. Not only were we outsiders, but perhaps they thought we were there to sour an under-the-table agreement with a party figure. Of course, the role of an observer is only to stand aside and let the process unfold without intervening. The media however – especially TV Azteca – undertook its familiar role in sensationalizing realitys, such as riling up crowds for the camera to chant “there is fraud here!” when there were lineups. When the votes were counted showing Vicente Fox, the PAN candidate, in the lead, Zedillo appeared on television giving a concession speech which was unheard of in previous elections. The PRI always found a way. It was exciting to witness first-hand the beginning of the democratization of a wonderful country.