Garcia Fuentes travelled to Mexico on a fellowship from SFU's School for International Studies’ Latin American Studies Program. He received training in Mexico City before travelling to the small tourist town of Tepotzlán in the state of Morellos, where he observed the election process at nine polling stations throughout the day.
“We were there one-and-a-half hours before the polls opened at 9:00 a.m. and didn’t finish until about 2:00 a.m. after watching the final count,” says Fuentes.
“We ensured that voters were following procedures—that voting was done in secret, that ballot boxes were secured, that voters weren’t being impeded from voting and that no-one was coercing or paying people to vote. If we saw a problem, we had to write it down and bring it to the mission chief.”
Wearing the white vest of an international observer, he says, gave him “a very strange sense of authority. People were more nervous when we were around. Some were pleased to see us, some not. There was a palpable change in atmosphere once we showed up at a polling station.”
Fortunately, he didn’t experience any violence, although it did occur elsewhere.
“There were stories of ballot boxes stolen by armed men and other violent incidents,” he says.
“I would not say that our presence was a great deterrent to fraud—Mexican nationals should receive credit for that. Our role was to observe and report if we saw fraud occurring. I think it’s important to have international observers from the region to foster the sense of solidarity against corruption, especially in places where fraudulent practices are more common, such as Mexico.”
Born in El Salvador, Garcia Fuentes came to Canada as an infant, and holds dual citizenship. With a strong interest in Latin America, he is now pursuing a master’s degree in international studies, and plans to research anti-mining activism in El Salvador.
“El Salvador is the first country in the world to prohibit all metallic mining, and that’s due largely to the efforts of anti-mining activists,” he says. “I want to find out how these social groups managed to convince the government this was the correct measure to take.”