Questioning elections undermines progress

In mid-September, nearly two centuries ago, a firebrand Mexican priest ignited a revolt against Spain. He would not live to see an independent Mexico — his head soon hung from a spike — but it was an unsuccessful warning to those who fought on in his name.

A century later, Mexico suffered through another decade-long revolution. And yet democracy still remained beyond grasp. Many years of single-party domination followed.

Another century has passed, and with the United States once again distracted by entanglements abroad, Mexico appears to be in the midst of yet another political blowup. Millions march for a recount of this summer’s presidential election. Jordan Trevino ’07 apparently counts himself among that number.

Trevino’s opinion piece on Friday (“Mexico’s current version of democracy not sustainable”) characterized the election as a fraud, linked the ostensible winner’s politics to those of the current American president, and commended the ostensible loser for his continued defiance. Is the current form of Mexican democracy, as Trevino’s headline boldly stated, truly not sustainable?

Among the more remarkable events in global politics of the last few decades was the arrival of democracy in Mexico. It was peaceful, though it need not have been.

Democracy emerged slowly, lurchingly, finally landing firmly in 2000 with the election of the first opposition party president in the country’s history. The widespread view that Vicente Fox has been ineffective in solving Mexico’s problems should not diminish the significance of his victory six years ago. The fact that Felipe Calderon is a member of Fox’s party should not cast doubt on the validity of Mexican democracy.

Trevino makes several claims against the current process.

After mislabeling Calderon the “protege” of Fox, Trevino criticizes his campaign as “Mexico’s dirtiest campaign ever.” Calderon’s party “went for broke … In their eyes, the ends justified the means, and throughout the presidential race they demonized Obrador.” Whatever distaste one feels for such common political character assassination, it is beyond a stretch to infer electoral fraud from it.

However large and lamentable Mexican disparities may be, and however insidiously Calderon’s campaign exploited social tensions, any elector will tire of political mud. The 2006 election cannot be summarized as a national hoodwink. More importantly, Mexican elections today happily share almost nothing with elections of the last century. Ballots were not stuffed on election morning, dead men did not vote 10 times, guns were not fired, and the winner had not already been chosen a year prior.

Trevino comments on the irony of American corporations, “blinded by greed,” supporting Calderon’s apparently awful plan to increase foreign investment in Mexico. Trevino directly links the weakness of Fox’s leadership with the current hot-button issue of immigration. He is right, in part. Fox has certainly failed to stem the Mexican tide along our border. But nothing is accomplished by conflating Fox’s bumbling tenure, the complicated problems of the U.S.-Mexico border, and serious charges of electoral crimes.

Trevino casts a jaundiced eye at the Bush administration for lauding Mexican institutions. Ignoring historically sensitive issues surrounding the kind of overt pressure Trevino apparently wants the U.S. to exert on the Mexican government, it is perhaps best to rebuke him with the words of others. The European Union’s team of 80 election observers from 21 countries ruled that “the 2 July 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections were generally competitive and transparent, demonstrating a firm commitment of the Mexican citizens to the strengthening and consolidation of democracy.”

This was the international consensus. It is not surprising: electoral reform has been one of the few national issues Mexico has satisfactorily addressed in the recent past. The current election ran through a gamut of appeals hearings.

Trevino complains that the Mexican government “has been unwilling to let itself be taken by the people’s will.” He concludes by praising Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s obstinate quest.

Our southern neighbors have substantial problems. Free trade has not been a panacea. Manufacturing exports has proven a leaky engine of economic growth. The government has failed to improve national infrastructure. Energy, telecommunication and transportation costs remain excessively high. North and south are divided by income and by hope. But the battle to become an open society cannot be tallied among these problems.

When Obrador responds coyly to the question of how long he will maintain his crusade; when he chuckles at the feigned groans of his supporters as he asks them to refrain from violence; when, in his nightly address, he harangues “the establishment” and rallies the gathered faithful to the struggle, a single word comes to mind: demagogue.

And yet Obrador’s political tactics are ultimately as legitimate as any dirty schemes of his opponent. He understands his political base. He addresses social inequality more humanely than his opponent does.

But none of this matters now. Obrador lost the election. It is difficult to imagine a more damaging move to Mexican democracy than his current one: to construct an alternative government parallel to Calderon’s. At summer’s end, Obrador reveals how little he actually cares about democracy. He is a sore and now dangerous loser who is hollowly ringing the old Mexican bell of electoral fraud.

Trevino should not share in reopening those wounds.

Spencer Gray is a sophomore in Trumbull College.

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