Is Russia trying to subvert Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections?

By Elliot Bullman

The United States has detected initial signs that Russia is interfering in Mexico's presidential campaigns, according to General H.R McMaster, National Security Advisor to the White House.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said in mid-December that the US had seen signs of Russian 'subversion and disinformation in Mexico's upcoming presidential election.

mexico y rusiaPhoto Credits: Website El Mañana Global

In fact, McMaster has mentionedRussia's "destablizing behavior" in Mexico and elsewhere several times in recent weeks.

"With Russia we are concerned, increasingly concerned, with these sophisticated campaigns of subversion and disinformation and propaganda, the use of cyber tools to do that," McMaster said, according to Reforma magazine.

"You see this most recently with the Catalonia independence referendum in Spain, for example," McMaster said. "You see actually initial signs of it in the Mexican presidential campaign already."

H.R McMasterPhoto Credits: Website HispanTV

European Parliament members have saidRussia mounted a propaganda effort in Catalonia to undermine EU stability, and a cyber task force operated by the EU's foreign affairs arm compiled what it calls disinformationproduced by outlets backed by or tied to the Russian government.

Members of the US Senate have also saidthere were signs of Russian-based groups attempting to affect Catalonia's October vote.

'There's every reason to think that Mexico is a target for attack'

Analysts and officials have already expressed concern about the potential for Russian interference.

Mexican Sen. Armando Ríos Piter of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution party said "If Russia intervened in the United States, there's every reason to think that Mexico is a target for attack".

Armando Ríos PiterPhoto Credits: Website Noreste Informativo

Russian intelligence services have a long history in Mexico, and the Mexican government's history of hacking, the media's role in exchanging coverage for payments or ad money, and the lack of agencies equipped to deal with such interference could leave Mexico hard-pressed or unable to counter misinformation.

Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district in Texas borders Mexico, has already called for an investigation into Russian meddling in Mexico's election.

Cuellar told Texas Standardinearly December. "Being next door neighbors, we certainly need to know if the Russians or other actors have been or will be getting involved in this presidential election."

Henry CuellarPhoto Credits: Website Alchetron

Tony Payan, director of the Mexico Centre at Rice University, told Bloombergthathacking of the Mexican electoral system — either by the PRI or by a government like Russia — is a significant risk.

Russia has a history of backing left-wing governments in Latin America. It had close relations with Cuba throughout the Cold War, maintains ties with Nicaragua's government, and has grown increasingly close to Venezuela's embattled government.

Many speculate Moscow could try to back Mexico's left-wing presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador has run in the past two presidential elections, losing both times in close votes he's suggested were affected by fraud. His stock has risen with the election of President Donald Trump in the US, as Lopez Obrador is seen by some asthe best candidate to counter Trump's anti-Mexico posture.

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