Michael K. Frisby, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
May 23, 1989
MEXICO CITY - Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said yesterday that the future of democratic elections in Mexico hinges on whether there is fraud in several regional contests this year.
Kennedy said opposition leaders he met in his three-day visit here had complained about widespread voting fraud in last year's presidential election and called for major reforms to be implemented.
According to sources, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, leader of the Democratic Revolution Party, who finished second to Carlos Salinas de Gortari in the presidential contest last July, told Kennedy yesterday that upheaval is inevitable if the government does not adopt a genuine democratic process.
Asked by Kennedy why there has been no major public outburst despite the poor standard of living, Cardenas reportedly replied: "The people have some degree of faith that something will happen. If there is not a real democratic process, then upheaval is inevitable."
Sources said Kennedy heard more tough talk Saturday in a meeting with Manuel J. Clouthier, leader of the National Action Party, who finished third in the election.
Clouthier reportedly told Kennedy that the election was "rigged" and that none of the candidates received more than 34 percent of the vote, even though Salinas, a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, was declared the winner with 50.7 percent.
Further, sources said, Clouthier charged that the governing party continues to control most jobs in the country, he said that a friend could not obtain a permit for a shrimp business because he was not a member of the party.
Salinas has been widely praised for instituting a government austerity program, but Clouthier questioned why the president purchased a $65 million airplane soon after taking office.
Clouthier also reportedly questioned the sincerity of the government's drug fighting efforts, which have earned Salinas praise. He said a few drug kingpins had have been arrested, but other well-known dealers have not.
Kennedy, in an interview yesterday with The Boston Globe, said the opposition leaders "are hopeful they will develop a process in which the expression of the people of Mexico can be duly and correctly recorded in elections."
Agreeing with Cardenas, Kennedy said that the real test will be in the 16 regional elections held this year.
But Kennedy noted that contested elections are a new phenomenon for Mexico, where one-party rule has existed since 1929. And despite past election fraud, Kennedy said there is a sharp contrast between Mexico's problems and the situation in Panama.
"The opposition leaders here never urged American involvement in their national election," he said. "In Panama, you had a duly elected, constitutional government overthrown by General Noriega."
Kennedy also noted that negotiations are currently underway between Salinas and National Action Party representatives to institute election reform.
"Election reform is an important issue and there is a clear distinction between what happened in Panama," Kennedy said. "But the clear test will be what happens with the election reforms, which include granting the opposition access to television and other media outlets that have not been available to them in the past."
Kennedy defended Salinas' attempts to curtail drug trafficking, noting that 40 percent of the Mexican attorney general's budget and 25 percent of the military budget will be spent combatting drug dealers.
Moreover, Kennedy praised Salinas, whom he met with before leaving Mexico City yesterday, and the opposition leaders.
"I am impressed by the quality of leadership in the government and the opposition parties," Kennedy said. "This is a country committed to democracy and to developing a closer relationship to the United States." The leaders are responsible, and I think this is something we sometimes take for granted.