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Former Mexican President Reveals ’88 Presidential Election Was Rigged

By Ginger Thompson

The New York Times -- MEXICO CITY

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, 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, 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 Salinas was losing badly to the opposition leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. “I felt like a bucket of ice water had fallen on me,” de la Madrid recalled. “I became afraid that the results were similar across the country and that the PRI would lose the presidency.”

Thus began the frantic staging of a fraudulent victory. In his writing of the event, the all-powerful former president chooses his words carefully and describes himself more like a supporting actor than the lead strategist. If he did anything wrong, it was on the advice of his staff, and for the stability of the nation.

On election night 1988, de la Madrid said, the secretary of the interior advised him that the initial results were running heavily against the PRI. The public demanded returns, de la Madrid wrote. And rather than giving them, the government lied and said that the computer system tabulating the votes had crashed.

This was the advice to de la Madrid from the president of the PRI: “You have to proclaim the triumph of the PRI. It is a tradition that we cannot break without causing great alarm among the citizens.”