Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mexicans will submit blank ballots in protest

July 5 is election day here in Mexico, the equivalent our mid-term elections, in which the federal and state legislators and municipal officials are elected. The president and state governors are elected in three years.

There is a significant movement to vote with a blank or spoiled ballot (voto nulo, voto blanco) to show public disgust with corrupt and ineffective elected officials at all levels. The poster shown here says, loosely translated, “I´m nullifying my vote”.

The Los Angeles Times, which has the best English-language coverage of Mexico, had a good piece on this.

The Wall Street Journal did an in-depth article on how drug money is influencing the campaigns, with the drug gangs either putting forth their own candidates or bankrolling others.

A leading political columnist, Denise Dresser, wrote in Proceso recently that there are 24 valid reasons to protest with a blank ballot. The national elections commission is horrified by the talk and is advertising heavily to persuade Mexicans not to throw away their vote.

An internet movement with significant impact

What´s significant is that the voto nulo effort is almost completely internet driven. Although there is plenty of paid political advertising by candidates and parties, this grass-roots movement is flying off the radar and attracting huge support.

Because of voter alienation and indifference, only about 35-40% of the eligible voters will go to the polls this Sunday. Meanwhile, the voto nulo may represent as much as 7 or 8 percent of the vote. In other words, it could be decisive.

Cellphones in the voting booth

There are rumors that some political parties are offering to pay people for their votes, and are requiring voters to take a cellphone picture of their ballot in order to get paid. So there was talk of prohibiting cellphones at polling places, but that was dropped for fear that it couldn´t be enforced.

46 toddlers die in a day-care fire

Last month, a day care center in Hermosillo, Sonora, was hit by a fire at 3 p.m. while several hundred kids were napping, and 46 of them died (photo from El Financiero). Turns out the owners of the place were the wives of two cabinet members of the governor. State subsidies of day care make this a huge business, and getting a license is something of a prize.

So far, no one has been charged or arrested, despite public protests by thousands. The national social services agency is blaming the state and the owners, but what that will translate into -- fines or criminal charges, for example -- is not at all clear.

It also is not clear what all of the day-care center´s workers were doing at the time of the fire. None of them were among the dead.

The families of the dead children are eligible to get a $12,000 payment from the government. If they accept it, they give up their rights to pursue any action against the state. Some of the families are petitioning the nation´s supreme court to use its investigative powers in the case.

Crocodile bites dog

The English language newspaper Guadalajara Reporter carried a story recently about an American couple outraged that their family dog had been devoured by a crocodile near a beach here in the state of Jalisco.

Clearly, they felt that someone should be held responsible. Their family pet was frolicking in a swampy area when it was attacked. Why weren´t there warning signs? Why weren´t there fences? And so on. This is a typical American attitude. We should be protected from all danger. It´s someone else´s fault and I should be compensated. Mexico doesn´t work that way.

53 inmates sprung from Zacatecas prison

The prison warden and two top guards were arrested, according to the LA Times, after 53 prisoners related to one of the major drug gangs were sprung from prison in a lightning raid without any official resistance.

Reportedly there were 17 vehicles and a helicopter involved in the raid.

Local cuisine

This is suckling pig cooked “al pastor”, or shepherd style. These brick fire pits are common at restaurants here in Jalisco. The meat is put on a big stick, two feet or so from a wood fire, and cooked slowly. It´s great stuff. Wrap it up in a tortilla with some veggies, some sauce, maybe some guacamole or mayonnaise...

Everyone asks about what the food is like. The simple food is very good. A lot of it is heavy and deep fried, which is fine if you work with your hands and are out in the field all day, but not good if you´re sedentary. We´re eating pretty carefully.

Washington and San Juan, Puerto Rico

This is one of the major forts in San Juan, built 400 years ago. Cindy joined me in Puerto Rico for a conference of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. I moderated a couple of panels and was on a third, which was about the advantages of being bilingual. For me, the advantage was starting a new career at age 55.

Dust clouds from the Sahara envelop PR

While we were there, the skies were hazy, and health authorities reported increased cases of breathing problems caused by wind-borne dust from the Sahara desert. The National Weather Service links this dust to severe weather as well. Who knew?

San Juan was the second leg of a trip that included three days in Washington to meet with folks from the International Center for Journalists, whose Knight program provides my fellowship. We were working out details of an agreement with the University of Guadalajara, which is hosting the Digital Journalism Center that I´m running. This is our new web page.
Unfortunately, my schedule was too jammed to escape to Baltimore and visit friends.

Relaxing at a scenic overlook (above). The cap is a Brooklyn Dodgers 1938 model, in honor of my grandfather and great-grandparents, who lived in Brooklyn. Cindy guards the coast on the wall of the fort. A statue in San Juan commemorating a demonstration by thousands of women against the English (below). At the White House.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:24 AM

    Hey, Jim, you look right at home in proximity to the White House.
    Compelling post, as always.
    If it will let my comment through, I want to follow up on something you wrote some time ago, regarding Moby Dick: My favorite seagoing novels, favorite historical novels, are the Aubrey/Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian. If you're not familiar, you must check them out. Not easy reads...he doesn't coddle the reader or explain much (the workings of a 19th century sailing ship, food, customs) but rather plunges you right in. Set during the Napoleonic wars, one character is a swashbuckling captain, the other is a physician, naturalist and spy, so they cover a lot of ground, and subjects. Great reading.
    Be well, travel safely, best to Cindy.