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International Observer at the Mexican Midterms

from the June 9, 2021 Bulletin

Morena international solidarity guns & violence electoral politics

Bruce Hobson, a México Solidarity Bulletin founder and co-editor, served as an international observer during the June 6 Mexican midterm elections. We interviewed Hobson, here with Martha García Alvarado, the secretary of Mexicans Abroad and International Policy for Morena’s National Executive Committee, on his observer experience just after the voting Sunday.


Some might see international observers as people the US sends to México to ensure fair elections there. Is that the case?


Not at all. Morena, México’s left majority party, invited me to be an international observer for the June 6 election. All political parties in México can invite international observers, who watch for voter intimidation or manipulation. I was invited because of my activism in the México Solidarity Project.


The US has never had much interest in ensuring free elections in México. We need to remember that one party — the PRI — practiced electoral fraud whenever expedient for 70 years. The 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with Morena winning a legislative majority in both houses, represented a sea change in the political life of the country. The Mexican people have always wanted their votes to be truly “libre y secreto” — free and secret — as signs at every polling station in this year’s election proclaimed.

So was fraud avoided?


As usual, there were attempts here and there to influence the vote. The old corrupt practice of buying votes has diminished greatly since the 2018 Morena victory, but the conservative candidate practice of passing out free light bulbs or promising washing machines for votes hasn’t entirely ended. In Nacozari de García, Sonora, people defiantly stopped a PAN municipal candidate from bribing voters with food.


Canada raised fears about the safety of observers at polling places. Your sense of that safety in México City?


I felt no fear anywhere. Security has been people’s number one issue for years. But today you can walk through many neighborhoods of México City and not feel apprehensive. You can see police officers, many of them women, on many city street corners. They’re approachable and friendly rather than threatening or intimidating, and they see their role as maintaining a reassuring presence. And wonderfully, unlike in years before, young gay men and women holding hands or kissing can now stroll, without fear, through the city’s historic center.


A lot of news coverage before the elections focused on the many candidates who’ve been murdered during the campaign season. Who’s been targeted and why?


Principally, because of the rise of the cartels, violence in México still remains very real. During the presidency of PAN’s Felipe Calderón, the government met the violence of the cartels with the firepower of the military. That strategy cost thousands of lives.


The violence during this year’s election season has had less to do with the elections or politics per se and more to do with the internecine struggles between the drug cartels. Drug lords who have worked out deals with local political leaders to protect their “business” don’t want their apple carts upset. So they target the opposition party, whichever party that might be. That’s why the murders have been at the municipal level. Candidates from every party have been killed.


This midterm election has made few headlines in the US and isn’t being reported as anything particularly significant. Do other countries feel the same way?


Many people throughout Latin American and the Caribbean, especially those organizing for justice in their own countries, consider this year’s election in México as absolutely significant. One invited Chilean panelist at pre- and post-election conferences, Alejando Navarro, captured that sense well. He called a victory for Morena “a blow against neoliberalism and fascism” that “strengthens Latin American unity against the intervention of foreign powers, especially the US.” Several other internationals echoed that same sentiment at the conferences I attended.


Your biggest takeaways?


As the hemisphere’s second-largest city, Mexico City has a population of 12 million people, about 20 percent of the country’s population. Over 20,000 candidates from all 32 states ran for election at the federal, state, and municipal levels, an incredible statistic when you think about it. So it struck me profoundly how well the National Electoral Institute structures the electoral process to make it possible for people to vote everywhere.


On the day of the election, I visited polling stations in a few of the city’s largest delegaciones, sub-municipalities. I saw polling stations on virtually every city block. Most older and disabled citizens had only short distances to go from their homes to the election stations. When lines became long, new stations were set up.


The contrast with the US, where voter suppression against communities of color has become absolutely central to Republican Party strategy, could hardly be more striking. The Mexican government actually makes it easy to vote. To make voting convenient for working people, the balloting took place on a Sunday, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mexico’s 2018 presidential election had the largest turnout in history, and the June 6 election had one even larger.


I also felt, as I spent time with other international observers, a strong sense of Latin American solidarity. I had as my goal, representing the México Solidarity Project, to show that activists from the US can also join that fellowship of comrades whose countries may not yet be ready for a “4th transformation,” as in Mexico, but who all want to see transformation for our countries and our world.