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ELECTIONS 2000 REPORT
HUMANITARIAN LAW PROJECT
The Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) is a non-profit organization founded in 1985, dedicated to protecting human rights and promoting the peaceful resolution of conflict by using established international human rights laws and humanitarian law. The Humanitarian Law Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) with consultative status at the United Nations with a mandate to seek compliance with armed conflict laws.
It is within the context of our organizational mandate that we observed the electoral process in the Mexican State of Chiapas.
In July, HLP election observers, Lydia Brazon, Stephen Kerpen and Niels Frenzen, traveled to several Zapatista base communities. In the communities we traveled to, there were in fact casillas placed in close proximity to the communities for the federal elections of July 2. This was not the case for the August 20 elections. In addition to the instances cited in the previous section, a significant number of casillas were located too far from the communities to be adequately accessible. Security concerns in traveling such distances were also a key factor in the decision of whether or not to go out and vote. There were also issues relevant to the lack of credentials to vote in those communities. The war refugees usually arrive in a refugee settlement without their I.D. because all of their papers and forms of I.D. are routinely stolen by military, police or paramilitary in the course of incursions into these communities.
In addition to the refugees who don't have voting credentials, the Zapatistas themselves have denounced that the very process of obtaining the credentials was controlled by military intelligence. That is to say, those in the elctoral institute passed on information obtained from members of the communities, to members of the military; this was done with the clear objective of counterinsurgency control over the population in the conflict zone.
We consider that the conditions simply were not conducive for the August 20 electoral participation of most Zapatista base communities.
ELECTION DAY CATEGORIES OF IRREGULARITIES, MISCONDUCT AND ABUSE:
PRE-ELECTORAL AND ELECTION DAY VIOLENCE
The beating of a journalist by paramilitary and the forcing of observers out of Miguel Alemán had the desired effect on those who learned of the incident on Election Day. The fear and dismay were palpable among those we spoke to in Tila immediately following the attack.
Fortunato Lopez, president of a casilla was murdered the day prior to the election in Simojovel
In Abasolo, a presumed member of the paramilitary attempted to hit, Norma Vega, a member of the HLP election team, with his taxi.
It wasn't until we met with other observer groups that we were able to determine which irregularities were isolated, regional and/ or systemic patterns. For example, the early closing of the casillas, leaving of the PRI logo cards (logotipos) and non-distribution of curtains, were clearly a generalized strategy given the scale that both were evident. Attending the Alianza Cívica press conference where the Mexican observers gave their reports as well as the meeting organized by the UN and the one by SERAPAZ and El Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolome' de las Casas, were extremely valuable. The specific anomalies were often the same, although the conclusions varied.
The most notable asset in the August 20, 2000 elections in Chiapas was the observer and party representative presence at the casillas. In our opinion, that citizen observer and party representative presence was one of the most significant factors in the voter turnout and voter confidence in the process, We believe citizen participation will continue to be the greatest deterrent to electoral abuse. We were encouraged by the determination of citizens to participate in the electoral process but were disappointed by the electoral abuse we observed that was once again, amply evident in this process. The 50% participation was exceptional considering a climate where violence and recrimination were a very real possibility.
Compared to the elections we observed in 1994 and 1997, our conclusion is that the electoral abuses, irregularities and fraud were the same if not greater, in scope but not in scale. And that the scale was lessened primarily by the presence of Mexican observers and party representatives in particular, and secondarily by international observers and members of the media.
We would like to stress that we do not regard the quality of the electoral process to be solely defined by its outcome. We dealt more extensively with this issue in our report on Mexico's Federal Elections of July 2. The prevailing analysis that a change in party governance was the definitive criteria in both elections can only serve to obscure the very real need for structural reform as well as a collective will to develop and preserve a more participatory electoral process.
Our concern remains that because opposition party candidates were the victors in both federal and Chiapas elections, that this fact alone upstages the electoral abuses that include pre-electoral intimidation. HLP considers the effect of violence and intimidation on the electoral process cannot be quantified or underestimated and is rarely given the weight it deserves in evaluating the quality of an electoral process.
Having participated in the observation process of both the July 2 and August 20 elections, it seems apparent to us that the primary reason the opposition party candidates won, was because of the substantial leads both enjoyed as reflected in the pre-election polls. In other words, the fraud however vast, was simply insufficient to dilute the Salazar victory but certainly sufficient to diminish the degree of his advantage. In closer races, the degree of electoral abuse would have most definitely determined the outcome. Given the pre-electoral polls and preferences voiced to us, it is probable that both candidates won by a far greater margin than the final figures suggest. If nothing else, that margin by which they may have been defrauded, is skewed and robs the victor of determining the magnitude by which his mandate garnered support; there is ample evidence to suggest that governance adjusts accordingly. This is particularly true in the case of a candidate like Mr. Salazar who has declared his plans for inclusiveness in his government. The perceived support of the respective platforms, could conceivably factor in on his assessment of his program.
The area of greatest concern to HLP is that of the intimidation by police, paramilitary and party bosses on Election Day and the excessive and permanent military presence.
The gravity of pre-electoral violence cannot be stressed enough. HLP experienced this first-hand when a presumed paramilitary almost hit one of our observers with his taxi, following his threatening statements to the delegates and our driver. In Tila, we were told of a serious case of Election Day violence in nearby Miguel Alemán where one man was beaten and observers were run out of the community. Later that night we learned about the case of a casilla president in Simojovel who was killed. And, other cases of post-electoral violence have since been reported in the press.
Another area of deep concern was the lack of independence on the part of the CEE. This was not only demonstrated in what we experienced during the credentialing process but also in the reports we received regarding the computers that "went down" on election night and only came back up after protest to the federal government by candidate Salazar Mendiguchía. This was eerily reminiscent of 1988 when "Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas with a groundswell of national popular support, challenged the PRI electorally as never before in its entire history. On Election Day the electoral returns showed a comfortable lead by Mr. Cárdenas over Mr. Salinas. The computers inexplicably 'went down' and when they 'came back up', Mr. Salinas was the winner." (HLP election report, 1994)
The CEE's decision not to utilize the much improved situating of casillas established in the July 2 elections was a definite setback to the process. At least 100 casillas were removed from regions known as "opposition territory" making it difficult for targeted sectors to participate in the election.
Not enough appeared to be done to prepare the non-Spanish speaking electorate. Bi-lingual electoral education in an indigenous populated state like Chiapas is imperative. The need was apparent for pre-electoral training and strategies to reach a non-fluent (in Spanish) population and consideration for the varying levels of literacy in the region.
We would also like to stress the need of granting foreign election observers credentials and multi-entry visas for at least 6 months prior to and following the elections in order to adequately observe the electoral process.
Given the widespread problems such as the closing of casillas and the choice not to distribute curtains for the casillas, it is our opinion that these practices were premeditated and systemic and speak to a lack of will on the part of electoral authorities to hold democratic elections.
The issue of Special Casillas continues to be an issue that since 1994 has not improved. This problem is closely linked to the "shaving" of voters from the voter lists. We believe this to be a problem with the electoral authorities as well as the individual parties that have not determined to resolve it. Both may benefit from technical assistance programs with international models to which they can refer.
In closing, HLP considers, that the electoral model used in this election which has become the global standard by which the right to one's choice of government is determined, fails as the sole or primary means by which to gauge a participatory democratic process. In Chiapas, for example, this process short-circuits the often hyper-democratic process inherent in indigenous society.
We look forward to the development and preservation of "choice of government" structures that are more accessible, in every respect, to the population it purports to serve.
HLP would also like to encourage more human rights organizations to participate in election observation. Issues of coercion, intimidation and violence that we have observed are without a doubt paramount and within the purview of human rights observation.
Humanitarian Law Project's five member election observer team:
All five members of our team were bi-lingual English/Spanish speaking.
Casilla = Polling place
ACCREDITATION PROCESS, July 17-July 31, 2000
The Consejo Electoral Estatal (CEE), the electoral council for the state of Chiapas, readily facilitated applications for our foreign visitor accreditation. Our delegation received their letters of accreditation in a relatively timely manner. Problems arose when we attempted to acquire our electoral visas at the Los Angeles Consulate's office. We were told that they had not yet received the "clearance" list from the federal government. We subsequently learned that none of the U.S. consulates had received the lists until August 7. In our case, in Los Angeles, after having made an appointment on Tuesday, August 8, to proceed with the process required to receive the visa, we were told that the federal government had not yet sent the necessary visa form. After a few hours of engaging a number of agencies to assist us, we were finally told we could proceed and they issued the visas to our delegation. We believe, given that we were a known entity accredited by the government in 1994 and then again in 1997 as well as for the July 2,2000 federal elections, that this was a delay tactic to prevent us from observing the many pre-electoral problems that were subsequently reported. In this regard, the process served as an unnecessary impediment to electoral observation for foreign observers.
The HLP observation team was also accredited by Alianza Cívica, a non-governmental organization dedicated to the promotion of civil rights and social development. HLP has observed elections in concert with Alianza Cívica since 1994.
NOTE: We have included the CEE tally in an effort to assess the effect that the various incidents we observed or were otherwise reported affected the vote ultimately reported to the CEE.
NOTE: At every casilla that our delegation observed, there was at least one representative from the PRI and one from Aianza por Chiapas. Almost every casilla had a representative from the Partido Democracia Social.
NOTE: Although police did not enter the casilla's, we did notice patrols of police accompanied by men in plain clothes in most communities and would encounter them between communties as was the case of two trucks of police and men in plain clothes we encountered at the Sabanilla/Tila cruzero.
PRE-ELECTORAL OBSERVATION, August 18 and August 19,2000
ACTEAL/POLHO, Friday, August 18, 2000:
At the immigration and military checkpoint at Chenalhó we were stopped and asked for all of our credentials. Within minutes, two of the officials got into a vehicle drove off at seemingly high speeds in the same direction as we were headed. Just minutes up the road, at Las Limas, a checkpoint had been erected with a sign specifying the nature of the checkpoint that was set up on an easel like stand and orange cones were set around it. When we asked the soldier who stopped us at this point, whether this was a permanent checkpoint, he assured us that it was "always there". Approximately two hours later as we returned down the same road, the checkpoint was gone. As it was two days before Election Day, we also took the opportunity to ask one of the officials if he knew when the network of military checkpoints would be removed prior to the election. The official responded that they had not been told yet when or if they would be removed for the elections.
We learned from Alianza Cívica that despite appeals that a casilla be erected at the entrance of that community, the CEE turned down that request despite the fact that its federal counterpart, the IFE, did in fact allow for that in the July 2 elections. The residents we interviewed in Acteál confirmed that the casilla would be at Acteál Altos, (Canolal) about 1 kilometer up the road to Pantelhó, which is a PRIista/paramilitary area. The man we interviewed said it is a very dangerous area, but they were planning to vote regardless of the risk and would do so with observer accompaniment. Acteal was the site of the massacre of 45 of its residents, mostly women and children in December of 1997.
Vote count according to the CEE:
San CristóbalWe were not present to establish whether or not the refugees from Polhó traveled to this site to vote but made it a point to note the results upon our return election night.
1140 Especial 1(not noted by HLP-CEE
1140 Especial 2
Vote count according to the CEE:
OCOSINGO, Saturday August 19, 2000:
In Ocosingo, we found that the CEE elected to place the casilla directly adjacent to the police station rather than across the Zocalo courtyard where the IFE placed it on July 2. We first asked the officers at the police station if the casillas were to be placed directly in front of the windows of that police station as had been the case in 1997 when HLP observed elections in Ocosingo, and they said they didn't know. We then went to the offices of the CEE, which had at its doors perhaps 8 police officers. The woman that greeted us confirmed that the casillas would be placed where they were in 1997. The casillas ultimately placed there were #818, basica, contigua and especial and the results according to the CEE were:
Abasolo (#843): The people were expecting that a casilla would be set up in front of the municipal building. A man drove up in a taxi, he appeared intoxicated and called us over to the taxi while we were talking to people at the municipal building and followed us as we walked to the church. He stopped us and asked what we were doing there; when we told him he said "Aquí no se puede estar" ("You cannot be here"). We explained again that what we were doing is nothing more than elections observation and continued on the way to the church. Four of us went to the higher ground where many residents were sitting around the church wall. In an effort to determine if the man in the taxi had the authority to ask us to leave, we asked one of the residents if the man was an official of the community. The man responded that he was not but that he was a schoolteacher. We have found in our previous trips to Chiapas that the paramilitary usually operate all means of transportation in these communities.We asked the same man if the driver of the taxi was also a member of the paramilitary and he nodded his head in the affirmative. Below us, Norma Vega was walking on the road when suddenly the man driving the taxi accelerated narrowly missing Norma as she jumped to get out of the way and took refuge behind our vehicle. We left shortly thereafter.
Sibaca (#836): election materials had arrived for a polling place and were in the Casa Ejidal, which was locked when we got there.
The following voting sites are located in what is considered the Northern Zone. And has been the site of 30 families who were violently displaced by the paramilitary group Paz y Justicia with direct ties to the PRI. The Northern Zone has been plagued by similar actions throughout the region.
Bachajón (#485)--at 8:10, they had a polling place set up at the municipal building, with people in line, but we just drove by and couldn't tell if the people were voting yet.
Only 1 of the 3 Básicas had a regular white plastic curtain; one had taped up black plastic bags, and the other along with the Especial had no curtain.
Vote count according to the CEE:
Yajalón Casa de la Cultura (#1904): Two voting booths had taped up plastic bags, and one had nothing.
Pulpitillo (#1908): Taller Mecánico, 10:55
Vote count according to the CEE:
San Antonio Texas (#1909): Extraordinaria, 12:15 pm
El Ocotal (#1912): 2:00
Petalcingo (#1484): municipal building, 3:30 pm
Petalcingo (#1483): school behind the church, 3:50 pm
Tila (#1464): quick tour around 4:30 pm
Miguel Alemán #1475 E1A
Somewhere between Chilón and Bachajón
Comments from HLP delegation:
"The population of Chiapas is characterized by a large number of people for whom Spanish is, at best, a second language. In addition, high rates of illiteracy typify the region, particularly among the indigenous groups and most especially among women. Given this, it is critical that the CEE make an early and concerted effort to meet the special needs of the eligible voters of Chiapas. Voting education campaigns in the different indigenous languages, timed in advance of the elections, are critical. Sample ballots should figure prominently in such campaigns, as should demonstrations on howto mark one's vote, plus explanations of how errors can invalidate a ballot. Small isolated villages without access to the mass media must be educated in culturally appropriate ways, with careful attention paid to maintaining non-partisanship. Without these measures, such populations will continue to be subject to manipulation by interested parties, or even exclusion from the vote, due to their own lack of experience with the process." Kathryn Dowling
"The massive turnout of election observers was impressive. Unfortunately it was necessary. It appears that the remoteness of many polling places, which favors intimidation, will continue to make a large presence of observers necessary in future elections." Patrick Bonner
"Since Democracy in Mexico is barely coming to fruition, the guarantee of adequate electoral guarantees to a secret ballot must be guaranteed at all cost. While the election in Chiapas overall appeared to bring the people's choice to office, a significant amount of Chiapaneco voters did not vote freely. If everyone does not vote freely then full political and economic development will never fully develop." Gabriel Buelna
"On the one hand. the mere fact that it takes the presence of several hundred observers to lessen the violence and electoral abuses, dramatically demonstrates how far conditions are from the realization of clean, free and fair elections. On the other hand, The fact that observers are even permitted and more importantly that Mexicans have demanded a cleaner more democratic process since the days when elections were won with morethan 100% of the vote, demonstrates how far they've come." Lydia Brazon
"I visited Polho shortly after the Acteal massacre in December of 1997. Polho had just become a refugee camp for thousands fleeing their communities after that atrocity. I was appalled to learn that the people from Acteal, Las Abejas had to go vote in a nearby paramilitary community because their only other option was to vote in a casilla that was even farther and was located in a military base! " Norma Vega
Humanitarian Law Project
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