Mexican election is vital to America too
July 10, 2006
Tilson, Victoriano, Diana, Shaman Jaguar, Oscar, Esponjin, Emilio Zavala, Sabrina, Jose Luis, Norberto, Lourdes – these were just a few of the Mexican voters I interviewed in Guadalajara and Mexico in the four days from Thursday, June 29, to Election Day, Sunday, July 2.Who were they going to vote for? What were the issues? Where did relations with the United States figure into the mix? How did they feel about the immigration debate that is taking place in our country? It was an extraordinary experience, and I was impressed by the voters’ courtesy, openness and candor.
Mexico is a country of enormous importance to the United States. After all, if a new Mexican president can help create jobs so that Mexicans can find decent work in their own country, wouldn’t that help defuse the current immigration crisis?In economic terms, Mexico has become a major new market for Colorado products. As a result of NAFTA, our exports to Mexico have increased from $154 million in 1993 to $689 million in 2004, according to the Colorado International Trade Office, an increase of 346 percent. As director of the Office during those years, this expansion was a major goal of mine. We opened one of the first state trade offices in Guadalajara, created a unique partnership between air-quality officials in Mexico City and Colorado, participated in numerous trade shows and missions, and linked many Colorado companies with Mexican business partners. But I hadn’t been back to Mexico since 1998.In the weeks before the elections, however, there was little coverage in the U.S. press. Were we facing another hard-line authoritarian populist like Evo Morales in Bolivia or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela? Or a continuation of the more moderate and business-oriented policies of the current Mexican President, Vicente Fox?
At the last moment I decided to fly down to Guadalajara and interview people there as well as in Mexico City. Here are some of their opinions (an admittedly unscientific sample): The race was obviously between just two of the three candidates, Felipe Calderon (referred to by everyone as Felipe) from Vicente Fox’s party, the right-center National Action Party (PAN). He has now been declared the winner in the closest race in Mexico’s history. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has started street protests, is demanding a total recount and has the potential to throw the country into chaos.
The next steps are going to be difficult for Calderon, assuming that a recount confirms his extremely narrow victory. First, there are the disruptions posed by Lopez Obrador. Then, once Calderon takes office in December, he will have to deal with a Congress dominated by the other two parties, just as Vicente Fox has had to. Mexico is a relatively rich country whose citizens are overwhelmingly poor. Calderon will have to change this and narrow the appalling gap between the rich and the poor.Lastly, he will need to gain the support of the United States without appearing to be our lackey.”Lo menos peor,” said a number of the people I interviewed about their chosen candidate, “the least bad.” In the end, however, the people I interviewed really did have faith in their candidate, believing that he – whether it was Lopez Obrador or Calderon – was more than just ” the least bad” and that he could make progress.
“It’s Felipe and capitalism,” said Victoriano, the owner of a small restaurant in Tepatotitlan, ” or Lopez Obrador and socialism. Capitalism is where you run your own business. Socialism is when the state runs everything. So, for me, it’s an easy choice.”He’s right. Capitalism can work in Mexico.”I’m a shaman – Shaman Jaguar,” the man with the long hair and a ring on every finger said as we talked in the Zocalo, the huge plaza in the center of Mexico City. As for Mexico’s problems, he said that, “We have to stop sending our crude oil to your country so that you can add the value to it. We have to sell our handicrafts in your country instead of wholesaling them to you and letting you get all the profit.”
On Sunday, back in Guadalajara, a woman named Sabrina showed the mark on her thumb indicating that she has voted. “Felipe,” she said. “He will protect our relations with the U.S.”But what she really wants is to go back to Anaheim, Calif., where she lived for five years. Can Calderon eventually convince her that life can be just as good in Mexico as in the United States?For Mexico this is the issue – how to bring a greater level of prosperity to the millions of Mexicans who are living in or near poverty. Voters were looking to the candidates, not the political parties, to resolve this issue. I didn’t speak to anyone who appeared to be a straight-party-line voter.
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Interestingly, none of the 40-plus people I interviewed brought up relations with the United States or concerns about our immigration debate. Unanimously, they indicated that Mexico’s problems have to be resolved by Mexicans and within Mexico.Now we’re in limbo, pending whatever recount takes place and hoping that Lopez Obrador doesn’t cause chaos. We ought to be prepared, however, to rebuild U.S.-Mexico relations and find ways to help Mexico move forward. That means revitalizing the joint environmental efforts that were to have been part of NAFTA, taking a fresh look at trade issues, initiating more exchanges of students, scholars and scientists, and promoting economic development. Bringing greater prosperity to all Mexicans is vital for Mexico but also critically important for our country, as her northern neighbor.Former Aspenite Morgan Smith was director of the Colorado International Trade Office from 1989 to 1999, and he opened the Colorado office in Guadalajara. He can be reached at Morganfirstname.lastname@example.org.