Back in July 1988, I had a long business phone call with my late father-in-law. I said goodbye and told him I was going to watch the Mexican elections on TV that night. He said something that turned out to be prophetic: “Cuidado con la computadora” (watch out with the computer). He was referring to the new computer that was supposed to count the votes more efficiently than ever.
Late on election night, the computer stopped counting:
President Miguel de la Madrid governed Mexico for most of the 1980s, through one of its most painful economic crises, a devastating earthquake and a period of diplomatic tensions with the United States. But perhaps the most widely scrutinized act of his presidency came on the night in 1988 that his successor, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was elected.
In an autobiography that began circulating in Mexico this week, Mr. de la Madrid sheds more light on that dark night in Mexico’s history. What he reveals is not new, political analysts said. But in 850 pages, Mr. de la Madrid’s memoirs give the firmest confirmation to date of one of this country’s biggest open secrets: the presidential elections of 1988 were rigged.
Political analysts and historians have described that election as one of the most egregious examples of the fraud that allowed the Institutional Revolutionary Party to control this country for more than seven decades, and the beginning of the end of its authoritarian rule.
Initial results from areas around the capital showed that Mr. Salinas was losing badly to the opposition leader Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. ”I felt like a bucket of ice water had fallen on me,” Mr. de la Madrid recalled. ”I became afraid that the results were similar across the country and that the PRI would lose the presidency.’
Later at night, I was watching the TV and heard that the vote counting had stopped. I called my father-in-law who laughed and said: “Se rompió la computadora” (the computer broke down). Yes, the computer broke down because the opposition vote was so strong that it shook up the people in power. In the end, all the votes from 1988 were burned to stop the controversy. It did not stop the controversy, but only made things worse.
Most Mexican analysts believe that 1988 was the “earthquake” that destroyed the ruling PRI party and gave rise to the opposition and current President Andres Lopez-Obardor. In other words, Mexico was never the same after that night.
To be fair, the U.S. is not Mexico. Our system is much better and what happened in Mexico in 1988 was that the ruling PRI party would not accept an opposition victory. But while the U.S. is not Mexico, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Detroit look a lot like Mexico’s corrupt one-party state.
I could not help but remember my late father-in-law the moment that Pennsylvania stopped counting the vote.