Copyright 1988-2005
USF Center
for the Pacific Rim
The Occasional Paper Series of the USF Center for the Pacific Rim ::

Pacific Rim Report No. 37, June 2005
Redefining Sovereignty: Monitoring the 1994 Mexican Elections
by Arturo Santa-Cruz

Arturo Santa-Cruz is an Associate Professor at the Department of Pacific Studies, University of Guadalajara. Santa-Cruz received his Ph. D. from the Government Department, Cornell Univesity. He had previously pursued two masters (International Studies, and Public Affairs) at the University of Washington.

He has published several articles in specialized journals, and is the author of Un debate teórico empíricamente ilustrado: La construcción de la soberanía japonesa, 1853-1902 (University of Guadalajara Press, 2000), editor of What's in a Name? Globalization, Regionalization, and APEC (University of Guadalajara Press, 2003), and co-editor of Globalization, Regionalization, and Domestic Trajectories in the Pacific Rim: The Economic Impact (University of Guadalajara and University of Technology, Sydney Presses, 2004). His book on the emergence and normalization of international election monitoring will be published this year by Routledge.

The substance of this paper was delivered as part of a public panel discussion at the USF Lone Mountain campus on March 2, 2005 entitled “Presidential Elections: Fair or Fraudulent? Mexico 2000 & Florida 2004” featuring Dr. Santa-Cruz and Ryan Centner, who monitored the 2004 U.S. presidential election in Florida.

We gratefully acknowledge The Kiriyama Chair in Pacific Rim Studies for the support that has made possible the publication of this issue of
Pacific Rim Report.

In August 1994, a vast network of national and foreign observers and United Nations (UN) officials—over 81,000 in total—observed the Mexican presidential elections.1 This throng was larger than in any previous election monitoring experience. But more than the sheer number of monitors in the electoral process, what was significant was their mere presence. No observation effort at all had taken place in the previous (1988) presidential elections. Moreover, in 1990 President Carlos Salinas had declared that Mexico’s democracy was “not subject to external evaluation.”2 Similarly, the following year, Mexico’s representative at the Organization of American States (OAS) had made clear that “The Mexican government considers a matter of national sovereignty the organization and vigilance of its electoral processes, and is opposed to the participation of foreign observers.”3 In 1992 when the OAS General Assembly voted to amend the Charter so that a government that overthrows a democratic regime can be suspended from the organization, Mexico cast the only dissenting vote. As late as December 1993, Mexico expressed its opposition to foreign election monitors at the UN. In early in 1994, Salinas’ party turned down a U.S. proposal to send observers to the upcoming elections.4 As Robert Pastor has rightly noted, “There is no country in the world which is more sensitive to U.S. efforts to influence it than Mexico, and no country as successful in resisting American influence.”5 For Mexico, therefore, accepting foreign observers in 1994 was a major breakthrough. What accounts for this about-face by one of the staunchest supporters of the traditional conception of state sovereignty?

True, during the first months of 1994, with the Zapatista uprising and the assassination of the government party’s presidential candidate, the Mexican regime faced a serious credibility crisis. The acceptance of foreign monitors was no doubt a calculated move on the part of the Salinas government. It seemed logical for it to resort to an institutionalized network of foreign observers who could enhance its legitimacy, both domestically and internationally, by stamping its seal of approval on the impending electoral process. Even though Mexico had consistently opposed the creation of the very system to which it was now reaching. What is more intriguing is that the Mexican government was able to resort to such a network. A decade earlier it did not exist, at least to the level it did in the mid-1990s. Likewise, monitoring was not developed at the global level to the extent it was in 1994. For instance, in 1988 UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuellar noted that the UN “does not send observers to elections” in sovereign states.6

Previously national elections came under Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter, which establishes that the organization and its member states cannot intervene “in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” However, as early as the 1960s the OAS had started taking part in the domestic affairs of its member states by monitoring elections. But Mexico objected and opposed foreign monitoring of national elections. How is it that an international practice spread to the difficult Mexican elections?

The Mexican case epitomizes the complex interaction of state and nonstate actors, both at the domestic and international level, characteristic of International Election Monitoring (IEM). The nations of the Western Hemisphere played an important role in legitimating the IEM process, and, by engaging in it in 1994, Mexico partially redefined its sovereignty. During this process, both state and nonstate actors engaged in a two-level game, making strategic moves in the external front to use the gains obtained there in the domestic front, and vice versa.7

The Origins of Election Monitoring in Mexico
Election monitoring got off to a rough start in 1991. That year, the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) invited four members of Canada’s New Democracy Party to observe the February 1991 elections in the southern state of Morelos. But the experience was hardly a success. The observers did not speak Spanish, their arrival to Morelos took place two days before the elections, and they did not even visit the polling sites. Nonetheless, the observers’ presence caused adverse reactions. Alfonso Martínez Domínguez, a Senator of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said the observers were “unacceptable;” Antonio de Icaza, who had just left his position as Mexico’s representative at the OAS declared: “we do not have anything to hide, but we are not going to submit to anybody nor do we accept any kind of tutelage.” After that first experience, the PRD—as well as other opposition parties—forgot about inviting foreign observers. But Mexican non-governmental organizations (NGOs) did not.

Later that year, a group of NGOs started election monitoring in a more consistent fashion. The Democratic Assembly for Effective Suffrage, the National Accord for Democracy, the Study Center for a National Project, and the Mexican Academy of Human Rights (AMDH), observed the 1991 electoral processes.8 A similar civic undertaking the Chileans had conducted three years earlier inspired some of these organizations.
Of the organizations just mentioned, the AMDH would constitute itself into one of the leading actors in the 1994 monitoring exercise, having observed 15 local elections between 1991 and 1993.9 In its foundational experience as an election-watch organization in the state of San Luis Potosí, the AMDH joined forces with a local NGO, the Potosino Center for Human Rights.

The logical alternative for Mexico was electoral observation by the country’s own citizens.10 Thus, more than 300 domestic observers monitored the San Luis Potosí gubernatorial elections the next year. Interestingly, part of the funding for the 1991 drive came from the Canadian International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, in which Elizabeth Spehar, later head of the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, was involved.11 But perhaps more significant is the way the human rights agenda was expanded so as to include the electoral aspect.

Then came the Carter Center’s invitation to Mexican NGOs to go to Haiti. By then, the main rationale for election monitoring had become: “the idea that elections could be an instrument for change,”12 and in the process of recognizing the importance of elections as a means for change the experiences of other countries was fundamental.13

Thus, the next year, in return for the Haitian invitation, eight Mexican observer groups invited the Carter Center (CC), through Robert Pastor, to accompany them in observing the elections in the states of Chihuahua and Michoacán. But the CC also wanted a government invitation. Pastor tried to convince Salinas, whom he had met in Harvard when both were graduate students, to extend them one, but Salinas wouldn’t accept foreign observers in a Mexican electoral process. Pastor suggested a compromise: the CC’s group would simply “witness the observation of the elections in Michoacán and Chihuahua” in July 1992, but it would not comment on the elections.14 By that time, Salinas had decided that a “country that leaves the organization and sanctions of its internal political processes to foreign forces is giving away its sovereignty”. In October 1990, Foreign Minister Fernando Solana declared that the country’s problems regarding democracy would need to be solved by Mexicans “and not by importing specialized observers from Atlanta or Milwaukee who tell us how to do things.” Nevertheless, people from Atlanta were present in Chihuahua and Michoacán two years later. Salinas was still not moved. Thus an electoral reform bill passed in 1993 without mentioning foreign observers, and the Mexican electorate remained apathetic about the issue. In a November 1990 poll, 63 percent of those polled rejected the presence of foreign observers in Mexican elections.

To outflank the Salinas objections to election monitoring, the CC invited Mexican officials to observe the 1992 presidential elections in the United States! Atlanta intended the mission to be plural, so in addition to representatives from Mexican observer groups, it also invited representatives from Mexico’s three main parties. The small group that accepted was reluctant to express its opinion. The Carter Center insisted, stating that otherwise it would be an insult. The report flattered the American election while insisting that “we have no interest in interfering in the American political system.”

The Road to the 1994 Elections
Mexico’s political environment was totally altered as this election year opened. On January 1, 1994, the same day NAFTA went into effect, an armed uprising broke out in the southern state of Chiapas. As the Zapatista Front of National Liberation, named after the 1910 revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, gained popular sympathy throughout the country, Salinas was led not only to initiate peace talks with the guerrillas but also to restructure his cabinet and eventually to offer a new electoral reform. Thus, on 10 January Salinas removed Interior Minister Patrocinio González, a hard-liner, and replaced him with Jorge Carpizo, a widely respected lawyer and human rights advocate who had no party affiliation. At the same time, Salinas designated foreign minister Manuel Camacho commissioner for peace negotiations with the rebels. Along with the cabinet reshuffle, Salinas also declared a unilateral cease-fire.

That same month, the main political forces and the government signed what came to be known as the Barcelona Agreements, in which they agreed to change the structure of the electoral bodies at the federal, state, and district level. The third electoral reform during Salinas’ administration was passed. Since the political campaigns had already started, this meant that the rules would be changed in the middle of the game.

The rationale for such an extemporaneous initiative was clear: the electoral process needed to be presented as the only viable and acceptable way of gaining power. Hence, in the next four months a constitutional amendment and 41 changes to the electoral law were passed. Thanks to the former, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) was to be formed by six “citizen counselors” (approved by consensus among Mexico’s three major political parties, the PRI, PAN, and PRD), two representatives from each house of Congress, and the Interior Minister. Neither the government nor the ruling party controlled the electoral body anymore. Furthermore, the Interior Minister could not use his vote to break a tie. The electoral institution had thus become a different body, one in which independent citizens played a cardinal role. “The ‘citizenization’ of the IFE is the most important reform of all.”15

But the changes introduced to the electoral law were significant too. These improved the status of national observers and allowed the presence of foreign observers under the semantic guise of “international visitors.” At this point, both NGOs and the Mexican government were deeply engaged in their respective two-level games. The rarefied political environment had made the potential validation of the August electoral process provided by observers a highly valued item for the government. For instance, Salinas, through an intermediary, sought out the leadership of Alianza Cívica (AC) in order to make sure that their organization was going to monitor the elections. Furthermore, in order to insure that domestic monitoring actually took place, the government allowed both domestic and foreign financing of Mexican NGOs. Thus, in February the IFE approved the “Guidelines for the Accreditation and Development of the Activities of the Mexican Citizens Who will Act as Observers during the Electoral Process of 1994,” and in May Article 5 of the electoral law was amended, extending the observation period from just the election day to the whole electoral campaign.16

Regarding “international visitors,” the issue was more complicated. Although the change in the government’s position seemed unavoidable, there was no consensus. Salinas’ cabinet debated the issue several times.17 The acceptance of foreign observers was not immediate. In January Santiago Oñate, Secretary of International Affairs of the PRI, was approached by US officials regarding the possibility of Mexico accepting OAS electoral monitors, but he refused.18 However, the topic of foreign observers got on the agenda right from the start of the new negotiations due to the Zapatista Army.

There were, however, segments both within the opposition parties, particularly the PRD, and the government, which favored the International Election Monitoring of Mexican elections. Interestingly, the single PRD member who most strongly pushed for international observers, and indeed the one who came up with the idea of calling them “international visitors” in order to get around constitutional article 33, was Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, a former PRI president who had left the party with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas back in 1987.

But by that time it was no longer up to Salinas to decide on the issue.19 Instead the decision fell to the PRI candidate for president, Luis Donaldo Colosio, the Social Development minister. “Knowing that the eyes of the international community would continue to be focused on Mexico, and that the August elections had provided the impetus for the EZLN [the Zapatista Army] rebellion, Colosio recognized that it would be foolish to employ Mexico’s traditional attitude rejecting international election observers.”20

Colosio had already sent some signals that he was more open to electoral observation than Salinas had been, at least regarding domestic observers. Thus, for instance, on 8 December Colosio said: “I am in favor of a plural group of impartial and prestigious national observers, made up of citizens proposed by all parties.”21 International observers were not mentioned. But both Colosio and Salinas perceived the need to court international observers. Furthermore, by inviting observers rather late in the electoral process, as Jennifer McCoy, who headed the Carter Center’s team for the 1994 elections has noted, the government “had the positive thing of getting international legitimacy, having observers coming to election day, and saying, well election day looked very good. I think… there was an emerging norm, and recognizing the practice…. it was a recalculation of interests, of national interests.”22

Colosio seemed to have made up his mind on the issue around February. During the negotiations held during that month between the PAN, PRD, and PRI with the Interior Minister, only the PRD openly favored the presence of international observers in the August elections. The PAN had no official position yet, whereas the PRI was still against it.23 Then Colosio went to Washington, where he met with National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) leaders. As Patrick Merloe, who participated in the meeting with Colosio recalls, “he told us, please come, be involved, we want you in Mexico, we want you to help the Civic Alliance, we want you to come as international observers… he reiterated that it was his view that there should be international observers in Mexico’s elections.”24

From then on, there was a noticeable change in the government’s position on foreign observers. A week after Colosio’s speech, Mexico’s ambassador to the UN declared that accepting foreign observers “does not mean abandonment of sovereignty, but declaring that there is nothing to hide and that electoral processes in Mexico can be observed freely.”25 Nevertheless, not everybody within the government was equally convinced. Foreign Minister Tello declared in early April: “I have yet to be persuaded about the necessity of having people from abroad coming to observe the [electoral] process.”26 The Interior Minister certainly played a key role in bringing about the acceptance of foreign observers—although he accepted the presence of international observers (i.e., as international visitors), “not without sadness.”27 But even Carpizo’s pragmatic position could have not materialized had Colosio not agreed to it. “If the PRI candidate had said no, not even Carpizo would have been able to pull the [international] observers issue off.”28

By March, the political environment started to acquire a sense of relative calm again. During the first week of the month, Peace Commissioner Camacho signed a preliminary peace agreement with the Zapatistas, and on the 23rd the constitutional reforms that came out of the negotiations among the main three parties and the government were approved by Congress. But just then Mexico entered again in a state of crisis, as Colosio was assassinated that same day. This was a most extraordinary event in Mexico, where the last time something equivalent had happened was seven decades before. As a result of the critical political environment, the rebels suspended peace talks. Furthermore, in the midst of internal strife, Salinas had to hurriedly designate a second PRI candidate: Ernesto Zedillo, a former cabinet member who had quit to become Colosio’s campaign manager.
Nevertheless, the agreements regarding foreign observers remained untouched. Furthermore, in April the Mexican government officially approached the UN, inviting it to play a role in the forthcoming electoral process. The drafting of the official invitation was given to the six citizen counselors, who took their seats on 3 June. Twenty days later, and only two months before Election Day, the IFE issued the guidelines for “international visitors.” As José Woldenberg, then one of the six citizen counselors and later counselor president of the IFE recalls, the counselors decided to issue a “generic” invitation (i.e., not to make a list of invited organizations) so as not to offend any one; political parties and NGOs could then issue particular invitations.29 The guidelines kept the term “international visitor.”

Interestingly, it was the PRD that pushed the most to include foreign observers. Three prominent organizations monitored the 1994 Mexican elections: Alianza Cívica, the United Nations, and the Carter Center.

Alianza Cívica
Alianza Cívica (AC) was established in April 1994 as an umbrella organization formed by more than 300 NGOs. The decision to embark on an observation project was taken in November 1993, when seven organizations (Citizen Movement for Democracy, Convergence of Civil Organizations for Democracy, National Accord for Democracy, Council for Democracy, the Mexican Academy of Human Rights, and the Arturo Rosenblueth Foundation) first had the idea to launch a monitoring effort for the August 1994 elections.30

The founding NGOs were still trying to reach a consensus on a myriad of issues such as whether or not to accept foreign funding, when the Zapatista rebellion broke out. This changed everything for the nascent monitoring project. President Salinas decided to get in touch with its leaders to make sure that they would carry out their monitoring project, to set up public funding for observation efforts, and to relax restrictions on foreign financing. Furthermore, the amendments to the electoral laws enhanced both the legitimacy of and the opportunities for carrying out observation activities. Suddenly, the long neglected and despised observer organizations had become the government’s darlings. While an enhanced legal status and more open access to external sources made the work of the still nascent AC and other monitoring organizations easier, the sudden change in the government’s attitude toward them also entailed risks. Governmental attempts at interfering in what had been conceived of as an independent citizen effort was the most obvious danger.

But the leaders of the seven organizations continued to work on their own, building a consensus plan for the August elections. By the end of February 1994, the preliminary project was concluded, and then presented for discussion in several states. AC approved the final scheme in April 1994 in Mexico City.

In the meantime, AC’s project was also taken to Washington D.C., in order to request funds from sympathetic foundations and NGOs.31 Thus, AC and NGOs within it received an $820,000 grant from indirect public funding, including from the National Democratic Institute (NDI).32 This was rather unusual since NDI usually provided only technical assistance, not cash. But the case of AC was different. As one AC official recalls: “I told [NDI]: we need support in cash, not in kind, we don’t need training nor technical assistance, nor that you tell us how to observe elections. We know how to do that. What we need is that you support us financially….”33 The decision to provide funds to AC through NDI seems to have come from higher up, from the State Department.34

AC’s relationship with NDI was completely different from the one it had with the United Nations. For Enrique Calderón and Daniel Cazés, two of AC’s leaders, the UN envoys “thought they could manipulate” AC. Calderón and Cazés charge the UN with trying to make AC “g[ive] up on any serious observation effort.”35 The root cause of the problem was that the world organization “wanted to have a place under the universe of Mexico’s democratization.”36 The AC had taken the place that the UN thought they should have. The difficulties arose because the assistance the government had requested the UN provide put the international organization in a position of power vis-à-vis domestic NGOs, and AC resented this.

Nguyen Huu-Dong, who coordinated the 1994 UN mission, recognizes the problems his team had with AC. According to him, two factors underlay the heated discussions over methodological issues: the “lack of communication and lack of trust” between AC and the UN mission, and the fact that national observers tend to be, inherently, more aggressive or suspicious of the government’s intention in the electoral process than international observers are.37

Nevertheless, working with the UN was important for Alianza Cívica, for two reasons. The most obvious one was the financial support it would receive from the international organization. As noted, the government had set up a fund to be distributed among monitoring organizations—and the UN was in charge of managing the resources. And there were other issues. The neutrality of AC had become an issue early on; it was constantly accused of being partial to the PRD. This kind of criticism made AC leaders realize that the legitimacy of the organization was at stake. It was clear for Aguayo that the UN could provide AC with “political legitimacy.”38

Thus, AC focused its effort in putting together a comprehensive monitoring of the whole electoral project, which included the establishment of a media-watchdog body, opinion polls, a study of Mexican electoral laws, as well as a program to denounce illegal electoral activities (such as the use of government funds in political campaigns). AC actually mounted the largest organized and independent citizen effort in Mexico’s history. The consolidation of Mexico’s civil society since the late 1980s was crucial in this respect. It was the firmness of Mexican civil society, which made the monitoring effort in Mexico different from those carried out previously, such as the Nicaraguan experience in 1990. As one AC leader stated, “Insofar as Mexico had a stronger civil society [than countries such as Haiti], foreign monitoring was less aggressive.”39 As Jennifer McCoy, the Carter Center’s mission chief to Mexico in 1994 put it, “the international observers didn’t play a crucial role, it was domestic observers… Alianza Cívica.”40 Simi-larly, Pastor notes that in the 1994 electoral process, “what was critical was civil society.”41

The fact that Mexicans had the leading role in the monitoring effort was important for AC. This is not to say that AC was closed to foreign observers—only that it wanted to coordinate the activities of foreign NGOs which had offered to work with it. In fact, AC invited about half of the 777 foreign observers present on Election Day. The profusion of invitations issued by AC was not incidental. It had to do with the work many of the NGOs, which composed it, had been doing to establish links with sister organizations abroad. Absent this previous relationship, AC would have not invited foreigners to monitor the elections.

On 21 August, AC had 18,280 Mexican observers, and 450 “foreign visitors” distributed throughout the country.42 Based on a sample of 2168-polling places AC put out its first report before midnight, questioning the cleanliness of the election. An hour after midnight, and based on a smaller sample, AC released the results of its quick count: Ernesto Zedillo, the PRI’s candidate, was well ahead in the electoral race, with a 20-point difference from his closest competitor, the PAN candidate. Although the election was certainly far from being a model one, it was the cleanest Mexico had ever had. Tellingly, there was no widespread post-election mobilization, as had happened six years before. Furthermore, on this occasion the irregularities did not seem to have affected the outcome of the presidential election. The results for the presidential election were: 48.7 percent for Zedillo (PRI), 25.9 percent for Fernández de Cevallos (PAN), and 16.6 percent for Cárdenas (PRD). As AC’s report noted: “The quantitative impact of [the documented irregularities] cannot be calculated with certainty and precision. It is likely that they did not alter the outcome of the presidential election. Nevertheless, they did alter the correlation of the national forces at the national, regional, and local levels, the composition of the Chamber of Deputies, and possibly that of the Senate, generating an overall impression of governing-party predominance.”43

The United Nations
Around February 1994, the Mexican government furtively approached the UN with some kind of monitoring effort for the August general elections in mind. As Manuel Carrillo, head of the Federal Electoral Institute’s international affairs section, recalls, “We got in touch with the United Nations around February 94, in order to have a first approach… [in which] we arranged a visit by a UN team to Mexico….”44 Nguyen Huu-Dong, then director of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, subsequently visited Mexico, and as he remembers, “I talked with the authorities at the Interior Ministry… because at that time IFE’s president was the Interior Minister.”45

According to Carrillo, by mid-March negotiations with the UN were going well, if slowly. The UN’s reaction when the Mexican government first approached it was one of caution, if not reluctance. The UN had advised Mexico not to present a formal request for electoral support, citing bureaucratic reasons.46 The UN, to be sure, stated that it would not consider sending an observation delegation to Mexico because it was too late, because the country was too big, and because it was not clear that Mexico met the criteria required by the UN for countries to receive observer missions.47

Similarly, according to Jorge Alcocer, who along with Interior Minister Carpizo wrote the letter asking for UN’s assistance in the electoral process, when the Mexican ambassador to the UN presented the letter to Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, he asked: “Are you sure you want to do this? We don’t really want to be in Mexico.”48

Nevertheless, the assassination on 23 March of the PRI’s candidate hastened the negotiating process. According to Carrillo, it “initiate[d] a process of acceleration… by that time [Interior Minister] Carpizo was much more flexible.”49 In a preliminary visit to Mexico, Horacio Boneo, from the UN’s Electoral Assistance Office, had pointed out to Carrillo that UN observation of the Mexican elections was out of the question, since the country was very large. But on 10 May Carpizo wrote the UN Secretary General and requested him “to send a mission of experts in electoral matters” so that the UN can know the Mexican electoral system, and it can put out a technical report on the matter, and to help by providing technical assistance to the groups of national observers that request it in order to ensure their professionalism, independence, and impartiality.50 Thus, Mexico ended up not requesting the UN to send monitors to the Mexican elections. Nevertheless, the mere act of contacting the world organization in order to request its assistance in an electoral matter was a turning point in Mexico’s foreign policy.51 Manuel Tello, foreign minister at the time, accepts that inviting the UN was a qualitative change for Mexico.52 Without approval from the General Assembly, the Secretary General of the UN accepted Mexico’s request.

The UN’s five-member technical mission started its activities on 28 June, and concluded them on 9 July. In its report, it stated that “Mexico has lived in a permanent reform on electoral matters” since the late 1970s, and they noted that the last electoral reform—the one carried out as a result of the Zapatista uprising—“has been the only one of the three [during the Salinas administration] approved with the support of the [political] forces with the greatest electoral power.”53 The evaluation of the Mexican electoral system, in which the latest electoral reform weighed heavily, was positive. Thus, the technical mission concluded that “the structure of the electoral system [would] able to carry out free and fair elections” in August 1994.54 This view obviously irritated opposition parties and some observer groups. But as Horacio Boneo, co-leader of the UN mission noted before the elections, there was no way to prevent the Mexican government from using the report from the UN experts to legitimize the electoral process.55 Nevertheless, the UN technical mission was careful to point out that although the Mexican electoral system possessed a rather complex and well articulated legal structure, “it has to be taken into account that the norm, by itself, does not presuppose that the situation which it aims to regulate and the objective it pursues will take place by the established and desired means.”56

More conspicuous than the UN’s technical team, though, was ETONU-MEX, the intergovernmental organization’s team set up in early June to provide assistance to domestic observers. With a staff of about 50, ETONU-MEX provided assistance to 16 organizations—the most important of which was Alianza Cívica. Other monitoring groups included Coparmex, an umbrella business organization, the Teachers National Organization for Electoral Observation, of the Education Workers’ National Union, an organization closely associated with the PRI, and the Institute for Democratic Transition Studies, an independent think tank. As noted, the government entrusted a fund it created to assist monitoring groups to the UN mission. Thus, ETONU-MEX managed about $3 million, of which AC received half.57 The UN sent an expert to each state of Mexico in order to serve as a representative of the organization with local and electoral authorities, and as a liaison with local NGOs—the expert whose presence caused irritation among AC activists, as mentioned above. On Election Day, UN representatives did not visit the polling places; instead they visited the offices of the domestic observers.

With the exception of Alianza Cívica, the relationship between the UN mission and Mexican monitoring NGOs was smooth. The performance of the UN mission was generally considered a success, with many people within and without the organization talking about the birth of a “Mexican model.” Thus, ETONU-MEX co-leader Huu-Dong recognizes that “this was a new experience” for the UN, while his partner Boneo pointed out that the UN’s Electoral Assistance Unit would be able “to use [the kind of tasks assigned to it in Mexico] in the future as one of our tools.”58 The Mexican experience thus had a qualitative impact on the nature of international election monitoring. Paradoxically, though, the success of the UN effort was directly related to the success of the organization it had the most trouble with, AC. Talking about the effectiveness and legitimacy of AC, Vikram Chand notes: “Had Mexican civil society not been as developed, it is unlikely that [the UN] mission would have been as successful.”59
As a matter of fact, thanks to the existence of AC and other domestic monitoring groups, ETONU-MEX became a prominent actor in the Mexican electoral process. That is, by putting the intergovernmental organization between the state and civil society, the Mexican government turned the customary role of the UN as an external judge, into one of being one more player in the elections. This is not to suggest that the UN mission played a leading role in the electoral process—far from that. But it ended up being an actor alongside the government, the political parties, and civil society. The thing that bothered domestic actors in 1994 was, of course, their deep suspicions about the fairness of the electoral process. And it was that group which pulled the UN into Mexico. As Huu-Dong said at the time: “The fraud hypothesis is the basic reason of electoral observation.”60 The UN was in Mexico to vouch for the fairness of the electoral process. That is why it became another political actor, although of a peculiar nature, in the electoral process.

ETONU-MEX, for its part, certainly did not have an easy job. On the one hand, it had to deal with the claims of the leaders of NGOs such as Alianza Cívica’s that it had an ignoble pact with the government, or that the fairness of the election was not its main concern. On the other hand, it had to be ever careful so as not to offend the Mexican government.61 In the final analysis, according to Huu-Dong, “I would say that our contribution [was] not to improve the Mexican system at all, but to shed a little bit of light into the system.”62 That “little bit of light,” regardless of how much discord it might have created among the Mexican actors, ended up nevertheless improving Mexico’s dim conception of its sovereignty.

The Carter Center
The Carter Center’s (CC’s) involvement in the 1994 Mexican electoral process was very different from the previous experiences of this semi-official organization. On the one hand, the prestige and international authority of its head, Jimmy Carter, as well as the impressive record the CC had built by 1994 in the field of election monitoring suggested the organization would play an important role in Mexico during that momentous year. Furthermore, the personal relationship between Carter’s chief aide on election monitoring matters, Robert Pastor, and Mexico’s president Carlos Salinas, as well as the vast network of contacts Pastor had with academics, activists, and political leaders from the Mexican opposition parties reinforced the expectation of a leading role for the CC in the monitoring of the 1994 elections.

But the CC also had an indelible mark that made its playing of a visible role in any Mexican elections extremely unlikely: Carter himself. When he was president, he had a few unfortunate experiences, and a series of problems with his Mexican counterpart that made the bilateral relationship with (then President) López Portillo rather sour.63 Pastor was part of the problem as well: he was not particularly appreciated by many in the NGO community, perhaps because of his closeness to Salinas.64

Immersed in this contradictory environment, the Carter Center ended up playing a relatively discreet role in the Mexican 1994 elections. As Vikram Chand, a member of the CC delegation to Mexico that year, has reported, “[The CC’s] council’s approach was low-key… [it] chose not to bring Carter to Mexico at all…. Of all the three major political parties, only the PRD was willing to consider inviting Carter… Mexican political actors… were simply unwilling to turn to an ex-US President to sort out their differences. What was possible in Nicaragua was impossible in Mexico; and the Council had to adjust its strategy accordingly.”65

The CC started its involvement in the August 1994 elections almost a year in advance. In September 1993, a four-person team visited Mexico in order to analyze the electoral reforms being discussed at the time. Two months later, it published a report, “Electoral Reform in Mexico.” The document included specific recommendations, some of which were later enacted. By the end of 1993, the CC was thus already involved, if more as a bona fide consulting firm or a think tank than as a monitoring organization, in the Mexican electoral process. But then came the Zapatista uprising in January 1994, which pulled the CC closer to the action. Salinas himself contacted Pastor, his former graduate fellow, to request the presence of the CC in the electoral process. As Pastor recollects, about March or April Salinas called and repeated by heart an argument Pastor had used (unsuccessfully) in the past to try to convince Salinas to invite foreign observers to Mexican elections. Salinas told Pastor: “I think you have a point, but you know we can’t invite international observers because the Mexican people won’t accept it, you know it will offend their nationality [sic], but what we’ll do is permit international visitors.” With that decision, as Pastor notes, Salinas had “obviously crossed the threshold.” 66

At that time, though, it was too late for the CC to form a large monitoring team, as the Mexican case would have required, so it did not properly monitor the elections—at least not to the extent the organization had grown used to. Instead, it sent “study missions,” produced four reports on “Elections in Mexico,” and carried out a reduced monitoring effort. For this, the CC joined forces with others to include the International Republican Institute (IRI), “because we knew we would be too small for a big country like Mexico to have the same effect that we had in Nicaragua or Panama,” recalls Jennifer McCoy, who headed the CC’s team during the whole 11-month process.67 Part of the strategy of the combined mission was to work in tandem with Mexican observers. The joint CC/NDI/IRI delegation totaled 80 members from 17 countries.

Interestingly, although the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) was supposed to issue only a “generic” invitation and not individual ones, the National Democratic Institute was specifically invited by the electoral organization to attend the general elections. Carrillo called them up to tell them the IFE would appreciate their presence in Mexico, and then faxed the invitation.68 The Carter Center team was composed of 11 members, among who were former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo, former Guatemalan president Vinicio Cerezo, former Canadian Prime Minister Joseph Clark, and Harry Barnes, the former ambassador to Chile at the time of the 1988 plebiscite. The team arrived in Mexico City four days before the election and then joined with NDI/IRI mission-members to travel, in pairs, to 25 states (and some stayed in the Federal District). In total, the combined delegation visited about 500 polling places, and witnessed the vote count in 34 polling sites.69 Two days later, it issued a favorable preliminary report, noting: “This election represents a significant step forward for the Mexican democratic process.”70

Five months later, the Carter Center issued its own detailed report on the Mexican elections.71 Although mostly approving of the way the electoral process had been conducted, the CC’s report was guarded in its endorsement of the Mexican political system. Their report notes that, “a number of irregularities were observed which may have had an effect on congressional or local races, and which continue to raise questions about the legitimacy of the outcome.” Nevertheless, the CC’s account recognizes that “Our delegation received no evidence that irregularities were sufficiently serious or widespread to have affected the outcome of the presidential race.” The report states that “further reforms were needed to raise credibility and address the inordinately unequal campaign conditions in the future,” and it underscores “the active and effective role played by civic groups in election-monitoring.”72 Regardless of the specific weight of the CC or any other foreign mission in Mexico, the important part was that they were involved in the monitoring effort. “For Mexico [the electoral process of] 94 was landmark... in terms of Mexico inviting observers.... the international observers didn’t play a crucial role... but for Mexico, one of the most nationalistic states, to allow what they call ‘visitors’, to witness the election” was what made it a milestone.73

International Election Monitoring in Mexico after 1994
Although the watershed for electoral observation in Mexico was the 1994 electoral process, election monitoring also figured prominently in the congressional mid-term elections, and particularly in the inaugural (and concurrent) election for the mayorship of Mexico city in 1997. In order to monitor the electoral process in the capital city, AC obtained a $300,000 grant from the European Union. Significantly, after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to prevent the funds from reaching the NGO, the Electoral Federal Institute was able to assert its autonomy and jurisdiction over electoral observation, thus allowing the funds to flow.74 In any case, the overall 1997 electoral process involved 391 accredited “international visitors” from 33 countries, and 24,291 national observers registered at the IFE—considerable less than in 1994.75

But before the mid-term elections took place, the manufacturing of another electoral reform had been necessary. After August 1994, there was still a widespread perception that the electoral process had not been fair.76 Thus, Ernesto Zedillo suggested in his 1 December 1994 inaugural address the need for yet another electoral reform. Less than two months into his administration, and less than a month after the devaluation of the peso had sparked the worst economic crisis in post-revolutionary Mexico, a document called “Commitments for a National Political Accord” was signed by the political parties and the government.

Nineteen months later, all political parties represented in Congress passed an initiative amending the constitution in order to make possible the most far-reaching electoral reform ever. Among the most significant changes brought about by this amendment was the exclusion of the executive branch of government from the Federal Election Institute (IFE). Thus, the IFE’s governing body, the General Council, would be formed by eight “citizen counselors,” a president (who would be also an independent citizen approved by two-thirds vote of the lower house), and two representatives from the legislature, one from each house. The 1996 constitutional amendments also established that for the first time in the 1997 elections the mayor of Mexico City would be chosen by the people, rather than appointed by the president.

The mid-term elections that took place on 6 July 1997 completely transformed the political landscape of Mexico, arguably closing the country’s protracted transition to democracy.77 With 39 percent of the congressional vote, for the first time the PRI no longer held an absolute majority in the lower house, winning only 239 of the 500 seats. The PAN obtained 121 seats, the PRD 125, and the recently created Green Party eight. Thus, by making a congressional alliance, these three parties were able to effectively prevent the PRI from taking control of the government bodies of the lower chamber, and were able to vote as a bloc on some issues. With the principle of proportional representation having been introduced in the Senate in the last reform, the opposition came to control 53 of its 128 seats. Furthermore, Cárdenas won the election in Mexico City with more than 40 percent of the votes, and his party (the PRD) won 38 of the 40 plurality-winner seats in the city council.

It has been widely recognized that the IFE successfully organized its first elections as an autonomous body. Some 85 percent of those polled days after the 1997 elections expressed their satisfaction with the performance of the IFE.78 Furthermore, cleaner electoral processes have effectively served to bring out Mexico’s plurality. Whereas in 1982 the PRI controlled 91 percent of elected positions (including the presidency, seats in congress, governorships, local congresses, and mayoralties), in 1997 it controlled only 54 percent.79

These changes were reflected in the 2 July 2000 elections. Not only did Vicente Fox, as the candidate of the “Alianza por el Cambio,” formed by his PAN and the Green Party, win the presidency with only a plurality of the votes (42.5 percent, vs. 36.1 percent for the PRI’s candidate Francisco Labastida, and 16.6 percent for Cárdenas, running as the candidate of the “Alianza por México,” formed by the PRD and four small parties); no party emerged as the absolute winner in Congress either. In the lower chamber the PRI ended up with 211 seats, the PAN with 207, the PRD with 50, and the Green Party with 17 (the other four small parties that supported Cárdenas got 15 seats all together). In the Senate, the PRI received 59 seats, the PAN 45, the PRD 17, and the Green Party five (two of the small parties that joined the PRD got one seat each). Similarly, the PAN won the two governorships that were at play on July 2 (Guanajuato and Morelos), and the PRD kept Mexico City (although it lost the majority in the city’s legislative body).

Lending credibility to this process again was a myriad of national and international observers. Over 30,000 national and 862 international observers distributed all over the country monitored the elections. By this time the government’s attitude vis-à-vis foreign observers had changed substantially. Thus, for instance, the Zedillo administration explicitly requested the presence of Carter himself in the electoral process.80 Leading the CC’s mission, Carter met in the days previous to the elections with the three main contenders to the presidency, who assured him that they would respect the election results.81 This time the CC developed a new monitoring strategy, working closely with the three main political parties.82 Global Exchange and other international NGOs also engaged in a comprehensive effort to monitor the presidential elections.83

But by this time the Mexican understanding of sovereignty had also changed. As Shelly McConnell, assistant Director of the Carter Center’s Latin American Program and a member of the CC’s 2000 delegation, said in referring to that electoral process: “the elections are only a signal of what has taken place between 1994 and 2000, which is a reformulation of what is Mexican sovereignty… Mexico’s sovereignty today is so strong that they can have a former US president show up and render an opinion about a sovereign process, an election, symbolic of sovereignty in a sense, and they are glad to have him there.”84

Accordingly, by the end of the twentieth century the fact that foreign monitors were present at an electoral process did not stir passions anymore. In the 2003 midterm (lower house) elections, only a few foreign observers were present on Election Day, and their being there was hardly noticed. The IFE issued a call for “foreign visitors” in November 2002, having asserted in a previous resolution that it “values, in all its extension, the interests of representatives of diverse institutions and foreign organizations in knowing and learning” about the 2003 elec-tions.85 But not many foreign observers showed up. Thus, for instance, the CC and NDI did not send missions, nor did the OAS, and the UN played only a limited role in coordinating registered observers (as it had done in 2000). The work of domestic observers was also rather modest. AC, for instance, did not mount a comprehensive network of observers, as it had done in the past. It monitored elections in only 10 states and Mexico City.86 The electoral results confirmed once again both the plurality of Mexican electorate and the consolidation of a three-party system: the PRI won 222 seats, the PAN, 151, and the PRD, 96. These three parties won 94 percent of the seats.87

The 1994 Mexican elections epitomize the nature of International Election Monitoring. State and nonstate actors, engaged in a two-level game, interacted intensively to make the monitoring of the electoral process possible. Only six years before, no monitoring structure was present—and no interaction leading to a monitoring effort took place. For instance, there was no UN Electoral Assistance Office to which President de la Madrid’s administration could resort. Further-more, the Mexican experience is interesting not only because domestic observers took the leading role in the monitoring of the electoral process, but precisely because, despite their late entrance into electoral monitoring, they were able to play such a prominent role. But again, it was the international structure that made the entrance of Mexican NGOs into monitoring activities possible in the first place.

The Chiapas rebellion was certainly what triggered the monitoring of the electoral process, but the issue was already present—and even without the uprising some independent groups would undoubtedly have monitored the process (it should be remembered that the organizations that eventually formed AC decided to watch the election in November 1993, and that the CC initiated its involvement in the 1994 electoral process in September 1993). Certainly, though, the UN would have not been present in Mexico. But it was the institutionalization of Internation-al Election Monitoring at the international level what allowed the government to respond to the challenge posed by the rebels. So the trigger itself, important as it was for this and other events in the Mexican political economy, was a contingent factor.

The international monitoring of the 1994 electoral process marked a breakthrough in Mexico’s history—and is why the monitoring of its 1994 electoral process meant so much more for Mexico in 1994 than in 2000, or 2003. After 1994 the Mexican state not only started to see the practice of election monitoring differently, but also came to conceive of its sovereignty as being partially defined by the international community. 1994 was the turning point. By the mid 1990s the understanding of modern notions of sovereignty had permeated the international system; Mexico simply caught up.

1. Instituto Federal Electoral (1995): 259 and 278. [Return to Text]
2. New York Times, 25 November 1990: 3. [Return to Text]
3. In Delgado (1994): 131. [Return to Text]
4. Maza 2001: 108. [Return to Text]
5. Pastor and Castañeda 1989: 10. [Return to Text]
6. Quoted in Stoelting 1992: 372. [Return to Text]
7. Putnam 1988. [Return to Text]
8. Delgado 1994: 136-139. [Return to Text]
9. Aguayo Quezada 1995: 159. [Return to Text]
10. Ibid: 158. [Return to Text]
11. Interview with Aguayo, 8 May 2002. [Return to Text]
12. Ibid. [Return to Text]
13. Interview with Sergio Aguayo, Mexico City, 16 August 2000. [Return to Text]
14. In Eisenstadt 1998: 4. [Return to Text]
15. Washington Office on Latin America and Academia Mexicana de Derechos Humanos 1994: 19. [Return to Text]
16. Olguín Salgado 1998: 453. [Return to Text]
17. Interview with Pastor, who debriefed several cabinet members on the issue. 5 September 2000. [Return to Text]
18. Mazza 2001: 108. [Return to Text]
19. According to Jorge Castañeda, Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes convinced Salinas to accept foreign observers on 23 December 1993. But subsequently, when Fuentes tried to arrange a meeting between Cárdenas and Colosio to talk about the issue, Cárdenas showed some resistance to meet with his counterpart, and the issue fell apart. Salinas did not pursue it further. Castañeda 1994: 30-35. [Return to Text]
20. Alcocer 1997: 696. [Return to Text]
21. Ibid.: 696. [Return to Text]
22. Interview with Jennifer McCoy, Atlanta, 8 September 2000. [Return to Text]
23. Alcocer 1997: 699. [Return to Text]
24. Interview with Patrick Merloe, Washington, 7 December 2001. [Return to Text]
25. Benitez Manaut 1996: 547. [Return to Text]
26. La Jornada, 10 April 1994. [Return to Text]
27. Carpizo 1995: 30. [Return to Text]
28. Interview with Jorge Alcocer, Mexico City, 12 November 2001. [Return to Text]
29. The IFE was reformed again in the 1996. Quote from interview with José Woldenberg, Mexico City, 30 October 2001. [Return to Text]
30. Calderon Alzati and Cazes 1996: 146. [Return to Text]
31. Ibid. [Return to Text]
32. Washington Office on Latin America and Academia Mexicana de Derechos Humanos 1994: 34 . Total foreign funding to AC reached $2 million Aguayo Quezada 1995: 162. [Return to Text]
33. Interview with Aguayo, 8 May 2002. [Return to Text]
34. Mazza 2001: 113. This, of course, does not mean that AC was an instrument of the US government, as some interested commentators suggested at the time. [Return to Text]
35. Calderon Alzati and Cazes 1996: 157. [Return to Text]
36. Ibid. [Return to Text]
37. Interview with Nguyen Huu-Dong, Mexico City, 22 November 2001. [Return to Text]
38. Interview with Aguayo, 8 May 2002. [Return to Text]
39. Interview with Aguayo, 16 August 2000. [Return to Text]
40. Interview with McCoy. [Return to Text]
41. Interview with Pastor, 5 September 2000. [Return to Text]
42. Aguayo Quezada 1995: 165. [Return to Text]
43. Ibid: 166. [Return to Text]
44. Interview with Manuel Carrillo, Mexico City, 30 October 2001. [Return to Text]
45. Interview with Nguyen. [Return to Text]
46. Castañeda 1994: 53. [Return to Text]
47. Carter Center 1994: 32. [Return to Text]
48. Interview with Alcocer. [Return to Text]
49. Interview with Carrillo. [Return to Text]
50. “Carta de Jorge Carpizo, secretario de Gobernación, a Boutros Ghali,” La Jornada, 12 May 1994: 3. Cited in Benitez Manaut 1996: 551. [Return to Text]
51. As the New York Times put it: “Trampling an ancient political taboo in pursuit of new legitimacy, for Mexico’s coming presidential vote, the Government has invited the United Nations to evaluate its electoral system and help organize independent groups of election observers.” Tim Golden, “Mexico Invites U.N. to Attend Election to Observe the Observers,” 13 May 1994, A9. [Return to Text]
52. Interview with Manuel Tello, Mexico City, 12 November 2001. [Return to Text]
53. United Nations 1994: 38. [Return to Text]
54. Ibid.: 60. [Return to Text]
55. Benitez Manaut 1996: 559. [Return to Text]
56. United Nations 1994: 59. [Return to Text]
57. Benitez Manaut 1996: 559; Chand 1997: 553. [Return to Text]
58. Interview with Nguyen. Armendares 1994: 52. [Return to Text]
59. Chand 1997: 553. [Return to Text]
60. In Proceso, 15 August 1994, 928: 7. [Return to Text]
61. Cf. Informe Alianza Cívica-Observación 94. La elección presidencial; entre el escepticismo y la esperanza. La Jornada 21 August 1994 (Perfil). Aguayo Quezada 1995: 162; Armendares 1993: 166-167. [Return to Text]
62. Interview with Nguyen. [Return to Text]
63. See Aguayo Quezada 1998. [Return to Text]
64. Interview with Aguayo, 8 May 2002. [Return to Text]
65. Chand 1997: 555. [Return to Text]
66. Interview with Pastor, 5 September 2000. [Return to Text]
67. Interview with McCoy. [Return to Text]
68. Ibid. [Return to Text]
69. Carter Center 1995: 8. [Return to Text]
70. Preliminary report reproduced in Carter Center 1995: 31. [Return to Text]
71. The NDI-IRI delegation, on the other hand, did not deliver its final report. Mazza 2001: 122. [Return to Text]
72. Carter Center 1995: 11-12. [Return to Text]
73. Interview with McCoy. [Return to Text]
74. Prud’home 1998: 153-4 [Return to Text]
75. Parraguez 1997: 27. [Return to Text]
76. President Zedillo himself would later recognize that the 1994 electoral process had been clean but not fair. [Return to Text]
77. Santa Cruz 2002. [Return to Text]
78. From IFE´s poll in Voz y Voto September 1997: 35. [Return to Text]
79. Casar and Raphael in Begne 1999. [Return to Text]
80. Interview with Shelly McConnell, Atlanta, 4 December 2001. [Return to Text]
81. Público 2 July 2000: 18. [Return to Text]
82. Pastor 2000: 21. [Return to Text]
83. See campaigns.mexico/ and [Return to Text]
84. Interview with McConnell. [Return to Text]
85. See “Convocatoria,” and “Acuerdo del Consejo General del Instituto Federal Electoral, por el que se establecen las bases y criterios con que habrá de atender e informar a los visitantes extranjeros que acudan a conocer las modalidades del proceso electoral federal de 2003,” at [Return to Text]
86. See “Boletín de Prensa. Observación de la Calidad de la Jornada Electoral,” in [Return to Text]
87. The Green Party got 17 seats, whereas Labour and Democratic Convergence received five seats each. Four seats were not assigned, since the elections in two distritcts were annulled (which affected also the distribution of proportional represenations seats). [Return to Text]

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