November 17, 2000
By Martin Espinoza
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
ACAMBARO, MEXICO Weeks before the U.S. elections, the Mexican press ran news agency reports about the probability of an electoral photo-finish. But few people here expected to see the world's most powerful democracy thrown into embarrassing political turmoil.
Indeed, the troubling events that have followed the tightest U.S. election in decades have been watched here with a certain amount of familiarity and irony.
The controversy reminds many Mexicans of their own country's long history of electoral fraud, a history fraught with stolen ballot boxes, computer glitches (more recently), and embarrassing recounts. It is ironic, because last July, Mexicans elected their first opposition president, in an election that was resolved at the speed of light, a little after 10:00 p.m. on election day.
All of this, of course, makes Mexicans very nervous. The "democratic" election of Vicente Fox Quesada last July has not yet made true believers out of a people who, almost by nature, are political skeptics. And the general feeling here is that someone is behind the political turmoil north of the border.
"There's a dark hand behind what's happening," said Salvador Canedo Romero, an Internet entrepreneur in this small central Mexican town. "How is it that the most powerful country in the world cannot determine who won the election?"
Many Mexicans think of the U.S. as a computerized factory that churns out globally consumed technology, popular culture and political schemes. This factory runs without stop or error, like a fine-tuned Swiss watch; what happened November 7 was simply inconceivable, and, for Mexico, it couldn't have happened at a worse time.
On December 1, president-elect Fox, of the country's center-right Party of National Action (PAN), takes control of Mexico's presidency. Historically, the transition between one presidential administration to the next has been anything but smooth. Mexicans still recall all too well December 1994, when the country's economy collapsed only days after President Ernesto Zedillo was sworn in.
A political crisis in the U.S. is seen as a darkening storm cloud on the distant northern horizon. When stock markets shake a little in New York, tremors are felt in Mexico City.
Shortly after Fox was elected, Zedillo's administration announced it would use billions of dollars to bolster the Mexican economy so it could weather the transition. Meanwhile, several weeks ago, Zedillo refused to grant a bonus to government workers, traditionally given at the end of each six-year presidential term.
Bureaucrats quickly responded with chaotic general strikes and street marches that brought Mexico City to a standstill for several days. End-of-year bonuses are the only disposable income for many Mexicans.
Both Zedillo and Fox announced their opposition to the bonus, claiming that it would cut into much-needed reserves. Though the government conceded to a reduced bonus, the issue clearly shows how many here are nervous about a "transition crisis." The developments in the U.S. haven't helped.
The explanations here for what's going on in the U.S. range from electoral fraud to corporate conspiracy. For Mexicans who swallowed George W. Bush's Spanish-language gestures toward Ameri-ca's Latino communities, the controversy in Florida is nothing more than a fraudulent political move on the part of Democrats to keep the Republicans out of the White House. In many ways, people here were more affected by Bush's gestures than were Latino voters in the U.S., and Bush is considered by many to be a friend of Fox.
Others view the U.S. electoral stalemate as a corporate conspiracy, an elaborate plan by America's wealthiest to bring on an international crisis, an economic shakedown that will leave only the strongest standing.
"There are too many people making serious money in the U.S., and this could be a quick way for the people on top to push everyone down," said Rodrigo Ibarra Martinez, the owner of small left-leaning newspaper.
But these are only the most extreme theories. Most people have no idea why the world's model democracy can't come up with a winner. They simply shake their heads and hope the international markets keep their cool.
Martin Espinoza reports from Guanajuato, Mexico.