Russia Moscow Circus
As I watched 'Russian interference' spread through Europe last year, I remember joking that Russiagate might also come to Mexico. The joke is on me now.

Weeks ago, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster gave a speech at the Jamestown Foundation in which he commented on the as yet unfounded claim that Russia has been meddling in democratic processes around the world. The Jamestown Foundation is D.C.'s preeminent anti-Russian 'think-tank', founded as it was in 1984 to gather all Soviet defectors for propaganda purposes against Moscow, so he was speaking to a crowd that is only too willing to believe any allegation against Russia.

"We've seen that this is really a sophisticated effort to polarize democratic societies and pit communities within those societies against each other," McMaster told the imperial gathering. He added that this is what happened in the referendum for Catalonian independence, and now "you've seen, actually, initial signs of it in the Mexican presidential campaign already."

McMaster didn't elaborate on how Russia is supposedly doing this, nor did his office at the White House return a request for comments from Reuters. That was literally all he said about Mexico. Naturally, Russia's Ambassador to Mexico Eduard Malayan called the allegation "foolish" and an attempt "to keep the subject afloat."

Although McMaster gave this speech in mid-December at the Foundation's '11th annual terrorism conference', his comments were not noticed in Mexico until newspaper Reforma posted the above video clip on Twitter, which last week went viral on Mexico's social and news media.

In a display of obsequiousness worthy of Count Dracula's quintessential sycophant Renfield, former CNN correspondent and producer Frida Ghitis then took McMaster's utterly vague and non-committal rambling and elaborated it into a conspiracy theory for The Washington Post, one in which a left-wing candidate in Mexico's upcoming presidential election, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often referred to by his initials, AMLO), has obtained an "unexpected boost" from Putin.

The proof? An academic and political analyst John Ackerman, who has openly expressed his support for López Obrador, recently appeared as a commentator on RT, and an RT host suspiciously once referred to him as "our man in Mexico" (Ackerman was born in the US but has taken Mexican citizenship, which no doubt makes him extra-suspicious to D.C. think-tankers).

Furthermore, his wife, academic Irma Sandoval, is close to the inner circle of AMLO's party, the National Regeneration Movement, or MORENA, and her name has been put forward for AMLO's cabinet, should he win the election. Since Mexican left-wing intellectuals have no business supporting left-wing candidates, and since Mexican political analysts wishing to speak publicly should avoid media outlets not approved by the US government, what else could this possibly mean but that Putin is personally fixing the election before serious campaigning even starts? (Luke Harding would be proud of this logic!)

Lopez Obrador

Left-wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador: 'We don't like him coz he's commie... er, in contact with RT... whatever, he's Moscow's Trojan Horse into Mexico.'
Hysterics Are Contagious

There is a saying in Mexico: if the US catches a cold, Mexico catches the flu. This usually refers to economics, but it's beginning to look like it applies to absurd political narratives too. Mexican news anchor León Krauze, who started his career as a sports journalist and has written four books on the history of Mexican football, has taken upon himself the duty of spreading Ghitis' claims uncritically.

He informs us that the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, as well as several unspecified security agencies and global media organizations have "concluded without a doubt" that Putin's fingerprints are all over Brexit and the elections of "twenty or so countries", such as France, Holland, Italy, Spain and of course the US. The problem in Mexico, he says, is that
[I]n the current context, Ackerman's work in Russia Today dangerously reduces the degrees of separation between Putin's regime and Andrés Manuel López Obrador: [...] That [Irma Sandoval] a future member of the cabinet of the presidential candidate currently leading the polls is married to a close collaborator of Russia Today... is a dilemma that would light up the red lights in any country in the world at this time... Andrés Manuel López Obrador must resolve it immediately with Ackerman and Sandoval. [Translated from the article in Spanish]
So according to Krauze, it is dangerous to give a government job to someone who is married to someone who has appeared on TV for someone who might possibly know someone in the Putin "regime".

John Ackerman himself set the Washington Post fake news article straight with a letter to WaPo's editor, Michael Larabee. He denied being López Obrador's spokesman, as Ghitis called him. His alleged role as a Kremlin agent is "fantasizing" - in fact, Ackerman revealed that his involvement with RT in 2017 amounted to two guest interviews for The Keiser Report, for a total of one hour air-time. Since 2016 he also publishes a weekly two-minute video on RT social media channels, for which he has zero editorial oversight with respect to content. He further explains:
The widespread censorship, violence against journalists and government control over the media have pushed many Mexican dissident journalists and intellectuals towards international media outlets, such as CNN, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, teleSUR and RT, in order to have an opportunity to get out our message.
About the suspicions regarding his wife, he commented: "only a sexist stuck deep in Cold War paranoia could imagine that she has gained this future post through help from her husband or from Moscow."

Another Mexican intellectual, Marco Cancino, head of Mexico City-based consultancy Inteligencia Pública, called McMaster's assertion "just speculation [...] The point is that Washington hasn't provided any solid proof for this." It's a sad state of affairs when intellectuals are having to point out to their peers what should be obvious to everyone.

Mexican media asked Marco Baños, a representative of Mexico's National Electoral Institute (INE), how likely it is that Russia could 'hack' the election. The reply was that, in terms of information technology, it was extremely unlikely. Regarding the possibility of either a cybernetic attack or propaganda messages: "In all honesty, we do not have any evidence that any of the presidential candidates are receiving this type of support." This directly contradicts Krauze's contention that "even the INE" is aware of Russia's meddling in Mexico, although "(for now) they are not talking much about it." Was he implying 'insider knowledge' that they would soon be induced to talk about it?

As Andrew Korybko points out, if there has been any 'foreign meddling in Mexico's elections', it's being done by McMaster and the imperial circles in Washington, with their unfounded and patently absurd claims about Russian interference.

We Can Rig Our Own Elections, Thank You Very Much

As a Mexican, I find McMaster, Ghitis and Krauze's assertions comical because Mexicans don't need help from abroad when it comes to 'interfering' in Mexican elections. Historically, most if not all of presidential elections have suffered from some degree of fraudulent practice in favor of the incumbent party, the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). Most notably, the 1988 election shines out as an example of blatant electoral fraud. PRI candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari was not leading the vote count on election day, and left-wing opposition candidate Cuahtemoc Cárdenas was headed for victory, until the authorities suddenly announced that "the system crashed." Later, when 'the system' came back online, Salinas was declared the winner.

Carlos Salinas de Gortari

Carlos Salinas de Gortari, once the ilegitimate president of Mexico
Although there have been considerable improvement to the electoral system since 2000, there still exists a wide scope for manipulation before ballots get to the INE for counting. Apart from corporate media bias for the PRI and irregularities such as massive unreported funding of parties, vote-buying is common in Mexican elections. The last presidential election was described by an NGO observer as "perhaps the biggest operation of vote-buying and coercion in the country's history." Thousands of people in poor districts are said to have rushed to groceries stores after the election to redeem gift-cards handed out by the PRI in exchange for a photocopy of their voting ID card and their loyalty.

Vote-buying will likely be "bigger than ever in 2018," reports Kenneth Greene, a researcher focused on elections in Mexico. He conducted a poll which found that 21 percent of respondents had been approached with an offer to buy their vote - 78 percent of those who mentioned a party said it was a PRI representative who made the offer.

There are limits to cheating, however - even in Mexico. If an opposition candidate is too popular, the tricks will not change the final outcome. This is why the sudden interjection of a 'Russian meddling' narrative in Mexico is particularly interesting - it shows that people like McMaster are genuinely concerned about the possibility of victory for López Obrador.

Mexican media looks set to run with this, but it's not certain that voters will buy it. The 'Russia did it' story works somewhat in the US because Americans tend to think of their democratic system as the most advanced on the planet. They have also been perennially told that threats always come from abroad - the Nazis, the Soviets, Islamic terrorists, the Chinese and now back to Russians. But in Mexico, the mentality is almost exactly the opposite. Everybody knows that the system is corrupt and not to be trusted. As for foreigners, those from the US and Europe are seen with a mix of admiration, jealousy and resentment, while Russia is probably too far away for most people to care about. Thus, I trust that most Mexicans will ask the obvious question: Why would Russia care about Mexico? Is Mexico so important geopolitically that Russia will invest resources in 'stealing' an election that already promises to descend into farce under its own steam?

My bet and hope is that a majority of Mexicans will - at least privately - meet the spreading 'Russian interference' virus with a healthy dose of skepticism and the Mexican equivalent of 'bollocks':