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Help Stop Russian Campaign Interference in Mexico, Senators Ask Tillerson

Leftist nationalist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador campaigns in Orabá, Mexico, on Jan. 30, 2018. (GDA via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — A trio of senators have asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to step in to help protect Mexico from Russian interference in their upcoming presidential election.

Mexican presidents are only allowed to serve for one six-year term. The likely nominees for the July 1 vote are Ricardo Anaya Cortés, former president of the National Action Party (former President Felipe Calderon’s party); Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the nationalist firebrand former head of government in Mexica’s Federal District who unsuccessfully ran from the hard left in the 2012 presidential election; and José Antonio Meade Kuribreña of the PRI, the party of current President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Tillerson traveled to Austin, Texas, today on his way to Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Lima, Bogotá and Kingston, Jamaica.

In advance of his trip south of the border, Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sent a letter to the secretary of State on Wednesday asking that he “raise the importance of strong, independent electoral systems in Mexico and Latin America more broadly.”

“We are deeply troubled by recent news articles that Russia is reportedly using sophisticated technology to meddle in Mexico’s upcoming election,” wrote the member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues.

“According to a speech by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, there is a ‘sophisticated effort to polarize democratic societies and pit communities within those societies against each other,’ noting Russia’s interference in Mexico’s presidential campaign specifically,” the senators said. “Given Russia’s history in the region, this unfortunately comes as no surprise; these recent actions are simply the latest chapter of Russia’s malign influence throughout Latin America that threatens to destabilize the region.  These reports are particularly disconcerting because of this year’s busy electoral calendar in the Western Hemisphere with six contentious presidential elections, including Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.”

The senators cited Honduras, where President Juan Orlando Hernandez was sworn in for a second term Saturday amid allegations of fraud against center-left rival Salvador Nasralla and subsequent deadly demonstrations in the streets.

“Weak electoral systems can be easily exploited and manipulated by malicious actors like Russia,” the lawmakers noted. “As such, we believe it is critical that USAID continue to play an active role in providing technical assistance, education and training to support countries’ efforts to strengthen electoral systems.”

“USAID’s democracy and governance programs are vital for capacity building and in light of the mounting evidence of Russia’s attempts to undermine democracy in the region we request an update on these programs, as well as other efforts to build resiliency against efforts to destabilize democratic governance structures. Furthermore, we must bolster credible international election observation missions including through the Organization of American States.”

Rubio, Kaine and Menendez said they hoped Tillerson would have “continued engagement on the topic since this will inevitably be an ongoing concern throughout the year.”