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Fraud and racial segregation in the land of true brotherhood

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ACCORDING to a new study by experts at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern, the exclusion of more than 1.4 million African-American ex-convicts from the U.S. electoral process is deliberately racist and stems directly from segregationist laws established during the 19th century. And it is Florida that holds first place among the states that most cruelly applies such discriminatory procedures.

In the country that proclaims itself to be such a model of democracy, more than 1.7 million citizens do not have the right to vote because of having a criminal record. Of that number, a large majority is Black, a social group that tends to vote mostly for the Democratic Party.

The state of Florida, strategic for Republican President George W. Bush's reelection, and governed by his brother, is "distinguished" by the fact that 600,000 of its citizens are deprived of the right to vote, a national record.

Governor Jeb Bush himself controls the electoral system, via Secretary of State Glenda Hood, a personal friend of Cuban-American Mel Martínez, former federal secretary of housing and a well-known accomplice of Miami's Cuban-American mafia.

According to the study by a group of researchers into the U.S. election system, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Virginia and Kentucky are among the states where the last Senate elections were the most hard-fought (like the 2000 presidential elections) and won by Republicans, to a great extent thanks to the laws excluding ex-convicts from voting.

The study, titled "Felon Voting Rights and the Disenfranchisement of African Americans," compliments a previous study, "Ballot Manipulation and the ‘Menace of Negro Domination,' " a joint project between the University of Minnesota and Northwestern.

"African Americans are a significant part of the excluded population," Christopher Uggen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, co-author of the study, commented on the web site

During the second half of the 19th century, many U.S. states refused to comply with the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees Black people the right to vote. These states applied a number of laws and regulations with the aim of minimizing the African-American vote under the pretext of a supposed "threat of Black domination," Uggen explained.

The spirit of that refusal to grant the descendants of slaves their elemental rights is present in every regulation that blocks access to basic democracy for that important minority. Little has changed in that sphere in many former slave states and other countries that the United States invaded to teach its concept of democracy.

Thirteen percent of all Black men in the United States are deprived of their right to vote. More than 245,000 women are in the same situation.

In six of the states that withhold such an important right via racist laws - Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, and Iowa - one out of every four people of African origin is deprived of his or her right to vote.

Only the states of Maine, Massachusetts Utah and Vermont allow inmates to participate in elections while serving a prison term.

Internationally, the norm is for people convicted of crimes to automatically recover all of their civic rights upon completing their prison sentences.

In Florida, ex-convicts who wish to have their full rights restored have to go through a lengthy bureaucratic process for this "privilege." In the case of serious crimes, they must somehow be called and present themselves in person in a special hearing presided over by Governor Jeb Bush, an extremely humiliating, medieval process in which they have to beg the governor to restore their rights.

In 2003, some 21,000 former convicts recovered their rights after civil rights organizations intervened and demonstrated the vast number of people who were unable to participate in the 2000 elections on account of having been wrongfully excluded.

With four months to go before the November presidential elections, 8,000 persons who have solicited that right have yet to be attended to, according to Bush's own services.

The election for the next U.S. president could be decided in Florida by a very narrow margin of votes, according to all observers.

Last month, Bush's officials announced that they had discovered 47,000 people registered to vote who "could be" ex-convicts, and the governor ordered their exclusion, a process so absurd and arbitrary that the state's senior elections official, Ed Kast, resigned.

Because it is a secret, in line with a Florida law approved by the Republicans shortly after George W. Bush robbed the "election," the list of those 47,000 "excludables" cannot be consulted by the population like any other electoral roll, in what is doubtless a case unique in the world. The state recently consented to hand over a copy of the list to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the country's most important civil rights group, after it was recognized as the legal advisor to the Green Party.

In addition to this scandalous situation, Florida continues to lack a trustworthy voting system. All indications are that the next elections will produce situations as absurd as those seen in 2000, in Miami-Dade and Broward.

The computerization of the voting system is taking place in the midst of that crisis. A report by a Miami-Dade official has just revealed that the Votronic brand voting machines, used in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, present a "serious defect." According to that expert, those apparatuses cause votes to be lost and for entire machines to disappear during the final voting audit.

Lacking a mechanism for printing on paper, the Votronic machines, which are banned in California, do not allow voting results to be checked in a detailed manner. Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood had repeatedly failed to authorize the purchase of the printing accessories needed for such a process.

The racist exclusion of voters with criminal records, the manipulation of secret lists and - according to some observers - the probable conclusion of the upcoming elections in another confusing situation propitious for fraud, is convenient for a Republican Party that openly allies itself with the Cuban-American mafia.

The dubious past of Jeb Bush - who was an associate of well-known dissolute characters in his financial adventures - would allow him to easily orient himself in that giant swindling operation.

Upon his arrival in Florida from Texas, Jeb Bush was hired by Armando Codina, a businessman at that time a member of the executive council of the terrorist Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF). Via a complacent millionaire friend, they obtain $4.56 million in loans from the Broward Federal Savings & Loan Association in Sunrise, Florida to buy a building in Miami. When they couldn't repay the loan, they managed to get the federal regulators to reduce the building's value to $505,000, and then repaid that amount, kept the building and sued the former administrators of Broward Federal Savings & Loan Association, which was bankrupt.

Jeb was also associated with Leonel Martínez, a well-known drug trafficker who smuggled more than 1,500 kilograms of cocaine into Miami between 1985 and 1986. When he was arrested in 1989 and then convicted, federal prosecutors had in their hands an eloquent photograph of Jeb shaking hands with Martínez, but refused to hand it over to the press.

Meanwhile, Martínez had contributed, with a number of checks, to the so-called Fund for the Future of America, headed up by Vice President George Bush (Sr.) and later, by his presidential campaign.

Another one of Jeb Bush's dubious business partners who won't cost him exclusion from the voter rolls is Mario Castellón, an extreme-right wing Guatemalan businessman who introduced himself to a leader of the Nicaraguan contras to provide "medial services" to mercenaries via the illegal network overseen by Oliver North, Donald Gregg and narco-terrorist Félix Rodríguez.

Jeb also linked up with "Manny" Díaz, whose business buddies include Charles Keating Jr., convicted of having cheated dozens of investors in Lincoln Savings & Loan of a record $6 billion.

He also had an extensive relationship with Miguel Recarey, another "successful" Cuban-American, who diverted a large amount of a federal subsidy destined for public health services in Miami. Likewise, through his firm, International Medial Centers (IMC), he organized hospital services for the Nicaraguan contra mercenaries, a specialty of then-Vice President George Bush.

Simultaneously, Jeb received $75,000 from IMC as its real estate agent to find a new headquarters site for Recarey, which he never did.

Recarey now appears on the FBI's most-wanted list.

And Bush, who has overlooked his own past, is the man who is deciding who may or may not vote in the state where in 2000 the U.S. dream of democracy was violated in the most spectacular way ever witnessed. •

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Jean-Guy Allard

Jean-Guy Allard

Periodista canadiense radicado en Cuba. Es autor del libro "Auge y caída de Reporteros Sin Fronteras".