Monday, July 03, 2006

Senor Presidente

Roberto Madrazo

Manuel Lopez Obrador

Felipe Calderon

Why should any American care about these names? If I explained that these are the major candidates to replace Vicente Fox as President of Mexico, it would not be likely to excite most voters. Yet the results of Mexico’s Presidential election will have real and lasting effects on the United States, and will play a role in the upcoming Midterm elections in the United States this fall.

Roberto Madrazo is the candidate from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which held power in Mexico essentially unchallenged for seven decades. When Fox won the Presidency in 2000, it was considered a stunning upset. Unfortunately for Fox, the National Action Party has not enjoyed substantive control of the legislature, and Fox was forced to take stands more palatable to the liberal Mexican populace. The PRI has been pushing to reclaim power ever since “Toallagate”, but has been largely rejected by the voters, who appear hungry for more productive alternatives. The available information suggests that Madrazo has claimed third place in the voting, well out of contention, but the other two candidates are still waiting for the final call in a very, very close race.

Manuel Lopez Obrador, the PRD candidate, is essentially a Socialist. The Washington Post compared him to FDR, but in essence he intends to redistribute wealth – one of his most popular slogans is “the poor first” – especially by heavy taxes and restrictive controls on corporations and industry in Mexico. In the short term, this would probably help Obrador solidify his support, but in the long term such actions would only worsen the Economy, especially failing to create jobs. One interesting promise made by Obrador, however, is that he wants “Mexicans to stay in their home country”, which indicates the possibility that Bush might be better able to work out a border treaty with Obrador than he has seen with Fox.

Felipe Calderon, the National Action Party (PAN) candidate, hopes to improve on Vicente Fox’s start to eradicate corruption in Mexico and build Mexico’s economy through cooperation between government and native Mexicans. He is strongly opposed to denationalizing PEMEX or working to attract foreign investment. One thing in his clear favor is that the Washington Post does not appear to like him.

With regard to the border issue, Calderon also seems interested in working with President Bush, rather than against him. In a recent campaign stop, Calderon asserted "How many of you have family in the United States?" Calderón asks a crowd of thousands Saturday evening. Nearly every hand goes up. "I have a cousin and brother-in-law there too," admits Calderón. "Our fathers, sons, sisters ... we need to bring them back here," he says.

But Calderon also expects the U.S. to help Mexico’s infrastructure, saying "I will remain firm in demanding fair rights for Mexicans in the US," stresses Calderón. "If we build one kilometer of road here it will be better than 10 kilometers of a fence along the border."

On the face then, it would appear that whoever wins the Presidency in Mexico will at least be willing to hear Bush officials make their case, but either man will expect a deal of some sort. In terms of American politics, therefore, the public statements made between now and November can affect the support for Border Control initiatives; the Republicans will either look principled and determined, or stubborn and unreasonable, and a number of close races could turn on that impression.

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