Friday, July 6, 2012

Recount Confirms Peña Nieto Win, But Doesn’t Count Alleged Vote Buying

A recount by Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute confirms a win by Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, the National Electoral Council announced Thursday. The recount only involves half the polling stations, meaning rival candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador could still challenge the electoral tribunal’s ruling and demand a recount of all the votes. James Bosworth argues that Lopez Obrador’s ultimate aim is that “the recount will show enough errors to cast the entire process into question,” adding that some of the allegations against the PRI involve vote-buying, a type of fraud that the electoral tribunal won’t necessarily catch.

National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota echoed Lopez Obrador’s complaints when she made critical comments Thursday about campaign spending violations, although she did not go so far as to call the results invalid, reports the AP. Vazquez Mota also mentioned vote buying in her complaint.

The PRI faces accusations that it distributed up to 1.8 million gift cards to Mexico City area citizens who were able to prove they voted for the party. According to the AP, a PRI spokesman said that the gift card scheme was “a clumsy farce, a theatrical representation” mounted by the left. The spokesman said that “Supporters of Lopez Obrador took hundreds of people to the stores, dressed them in PRI T-shirts, gave them gift cards, emptied store shelves to create an appearance of panic-buying, and brought TV cameras in to create the false impression that the PRI had given out the cards.”

The PRI’s official explanation for the gift card scheme echoes an argument made in William Finnegan’s most recent New Yorker article, in which he writes that politics in Mexico frequently revolve around the creation of “pantallas”: “screens, illusions, behind which are more screens, all created to obscure the facts.” The claim that a PRI gift card scheme was actually a rival party pretending to carry out a PRI gift card scheme seems to fit squarely in this tradition.

While the Federal Electoral Institute’s official confirmation makes Peña Nieto’s victory even more definitive, the complaints about vote buying may continue to rise.  As the Economist points out, the PRI’s electoral win has already lost credibility due to the pro-PRI bias of dominant broadcaster Televisa. The allegations about voter fraud may yet become another political liability for the president-elect.

While Lopez Obrador is likely to continue pushing for a full recount, in the meantime, the Economist predicts that outgoing President Felipe Calderon may become even friendlier to Peña Nieto. Calderon will likely need the new president’s protection when he leaves office if he is threatened with legal action by victims of the drug war, which could make him more willing to promote a coalition with the PRI, the magazine argues.

News Briefs
  • 33 members of US Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, asking that the State Department request more specific information about human rights abuses conducted by the Mexican military during President Felipe Calderon’s term in office. The request is meant to coincide with the US government’s upcoming review of the Merida Initiative aid package. The letter points out that many of the human rights requirements in the Initiative have not been met, and that out of the 4,000 cases of alleged abuse processed by Mexico’s military justice system since 2007, only 29 members of the military have been sentenced. 
  • Former dictators  Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone were convicted Thursday of stealing babies from political prisoners during Argentina’s military junta in the 1970s. Videla was sentenced to 50 years in prison and Bignone to 15 years. Both men are already in prison serving time for other crimes, meaning these newly issued sentences are symbolic. The verdict earned praise in Argentina, and increased anticipation for the upcoming “mega trial” of several former military officials who ran the junta’s most feared torture center. More from the AP.
  • A long piece by the New York Times reports on a proposed industrial park in northern Haiti, supposed to create thousands of jobs in the country’s north. But the park is being built near one of the island’s most fragile environments, a mangrove swamp and a coral reef bay. There are also questions why the park, presented as a showcase project for reconstruction, is being built in an area that saw little damage from the 2010 earthquake. With a slideshow
  • A Chilean court unsealed the will of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet Wednesday, but found few revealing details about the nature of the strongman’s holdings, reports the AP. The Chilean government is attempting to recover funds from Pinochet’s estate, worth an estimated $21 million and much of it from unknown origins. 
  • The Economist describes some of the challenges facing Venezuela’s opposition during the 2012 election year, many of the obstacles orchestrated by government institutions like the supreme court, state media, and the national electoral authority. To give one example, the electoral council recently ruled that some 23,000 Venezuelans registered to vote in Miami (and many of them opposition supporters) can only cast their ballots in New Orleans, as the US closed the Miami consulate last year. 
  • President Hugo Chavez said he withdrew Venezuela’s military attaches from Paraguay after some of them reported receiving death threats, reports EFE. Chavez’s decision follows Paraguay’s expulsion of the Venezuelan ambassador, after Venezuelan officials reportedly tried to meet with Paraguay’s military officials during Fernando Lugo’s impeachment process. 
  • Infosur reports that the amount of cocaine seized in Costa Rica has doubled in 2012 compared to the same period last year. In further indication of the country’s increased importance in the drug trade, Costa Rican law enforcement reported arresting a top member of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel Thursday.
  • A US Army veteran was apparently killed in a freak accident in Guatemala after a tree branch struck his head during a helicopter landing, reports the Miami Herald
  • The New York Times architecture critic visits Bogota and, besides getting stuck in traffic, views several buildings that hint at urban renewal. With a slideshow.

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