TCS Daily


A New Deal for Mexico?

By Ilya Shapiro - June 30, 2006 12:00 AM

MEXICO CITY -- If an alien had been in my taxi coming in from the airport here last weekend, it would have been struck by all the colorful posters, flags, pennants, and handbills dominating every line of sight. If the alien were politically savvy, it would quickly deduce that federal elections were at hand, and that the leading candidate for the presidency was a multi-headed monster called "El Tri" (the nickname of the national soccer team).

Yes, I arrived in the midst of World Cup thermidor -- too long and sustained to be mere fever -- just before Mexico's pivotal second round match against Argentina. Accordingly, most voters were much less concerned about various candidates' proposals for land reform and hemispheric economic integration than about head coach Ricardo La Volpe's (ironically an Argentine) plans for controlling the midfield and containing incursions from South American rivals. A few hours later, after Maxi González sent the Mexicans packing with a left-foot golazo in extra time, everybody cried in their tequila and resignedly turned their attention to who would lead the country off the pitch for the next six years.

Six years after Vicente Fox broke the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party's (PRI) 81-year-old lock on the presidency, the electorate was split almost evenly among Felipe Calderón of Fox's National Action Party (PAN), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known by his initials as AMLO) of the left-wing Party for the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and PRI's Roberto Madrazo -- though with the latter consistently trailing the first two by several points in the polls.

Calderón has secured support from the country's businessmen and entrepreneurial middle class (as well as from many social conservatives), Madrazo has maintained his party's traditional clientilist networks (especially among the poor in the north of the country), and AMLO draws strength from progressives in the capital (where he was mayor) and among more revolutionary-minded peasants in the south. The battleground, as in the US, is in a lower-middle class caught in the economic turmoil accompanying any structural reforms in this era of globalization.

In reading the foreign media, you would get the impression that AMLO is the second coming of Hugo Chávez, what with his nationalistic appeals and pledges to spend millions on new social programs. And if not quite Chavista, then certainly much more nationalistic and inward-looking than Fox and his NAFTA-promoting predecessors. "I have a valid visa to enter the United States," the PRD candidate explained the other day, "but I only intend to travel when absolutely necessary."

But the specter of radical populism -- and of massive debt and economic mismanagement, the themes raised in PAN's campaign ads -- is not what drives average voters. Again as anywhere, that would be their own pocket books.

In Ecatepec, just across the border from the Federal District ("D.F."), past the ramshackle settlements perched on the hills like a poor man's Positano, I happened upon a mega-church (atypical for Mexico) that was just letting out its parishioners. Eduardo Orgen, a 40-year-old lineman, said he wouldn't be voting at all because "[the politicians] all promise the same thing but we still have no services and the garbage piles up."

At the sprawling Plaza las Américas nearby, a spanking new Walmart looks like it came from any American exurb. The shoppers were too busy to talk politics -- and the security guards weren't too keen on having reporters around -- but I did learn that "Becel margarine will let you live in a virtual countryside." My guide told me that, for good or ill, this American-style consumerism was a new development in Mexican society, one that all political parties were struggling to understand and harness.

We drove on to Nezahualcoyotl ("the hungry coyote"), to find young families having a day out at the town's central square. While pilgrims of a sort recreated an ancient Aztec ritual, 30-year-old IT technician Daniel Navarette, with his two-year-old son in his arms, told me he was solidly behind Calderón, because "Mexico cannot go backwards" and Fox was prevented from implementing many of his reforms by a recalcitrant Congress. His diminutive wife Tanya admitted with a smile that she would go with AMLO, because she liked his proposals for expanding Mexico's gas refineries and increasing social security for the poor.

Down the road at his ice cream shop, 46-year-old Mario Rivera insisted that he would vote the straight PAN ticket even though his monthly income has dropped from 6,000 to 1,000 pesos (about $550 to about $90). He trusted Fox six years ago and he trusts him still, but his family's finances certainly keep him up at night. But "we have to stick it out [aguantar]," until the good times come again.

Rivera's wife, 44-year-old Hortencia Martínez, isn't so sure that President Fox's policies will bring good times, and plans to vote PRD this time around. "Fox [for whom she voted in 2000] didn't change many things," she explained, "and he's perpetrating a 'dirty war' on workers and peasants." Martínez blames China and foreign competition generally for the country's woes.

And that's the thing: the socio-economic snippet of Mexico City and environs that I witnessed reflects the reality of so many places in both the developing and developed world. Walmart, new technologies, and greater exposure to the outside world provide cheaper goods, new conveniences, and social mobility to a burgeoning middle class. But the owners of mom-and-pop shops, inhabitants of traditional rural communities, and the unskilled descamisados (to borrow a term from Perón's Argentina), can and do get left behind.

It's classic Schumpeterian creative destruction, and it can be good for a country trying to raise itself by its bootstraps. But a restructured economy without a liberalized labor force (or improved schools) also creates plentiful social tensions. Hence AMLO's constituency -- and the (state-supported) safety valve of escape into El Norte.

Per electoral law, campaigning stopped Wednesday, with Calderón returning to his base in Guadalajara and AMLO -- who is probably more of a Lula than a Chávez -- holding a final rally in Mexico City's historic Zócalo (where tens of thousands of fans watched the loss to Argentina). Now the posters and billboards are all that remain to remind people of how to make their choice. As for the World Cup, El Tri -- its sponsors' ads already changing -- resumes its candidacy four years from now, in South Africa.

Ilya Shapiro is a Washington lawyer whose last column lamented Latin America's populisms of the right and the left.

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6 Comments

Mexican democracy an oxymoron
Anyone who believes Mexican presidential elections relect our own elections is dreaming. Mexican elections resemble those of Chicago. Elections are determined among the 400 families that control Mexico. Has anyone noticed any significant changes in Mexico between the PAN and PRI? One could note more significant differences in policy between Laurel and Hardy.

The Mexican government does all it can to project a facade of democractic elections while insuring that they are impossible. There is no free prss. How is this accomplished? Simple all news print is manufactured by-wait for it-the government.

So anyone who steps out of line and no news print. The same goes for radio and television.

What about labor unions. Well in a nation where the government is the major employer does anyone expect labor unions to be independent. In the private secttor that exists labor leaders are bought off and live in huge villas while auto workers make about $$ an hour and have about the best paid and most coveted jobs that the workming class can aspire to.

Mexicans don't believe or expect fair and honest elections. They can only hope whoever is elected doesn't destroy the economy or steal too much (usually 1 billion-500 million) upon leaving office. There is a long tradition of Mexican presidents building huge resort cities upon leaving office by buying up the land and putting in infrastructure while in office and cleaning up later, if they bother to stay in Mexico. The brighter ones usually head for Europe to sepond their ill gotten lucre.

Its only a matter of time before we are treated to the spectacle of another revolution.

Which is why we need the Wall
Put the Wall up and the (state supported) safety valve closes like the sphincters of a newbie prisoner in Cell Block D.

Then Mexico will finally have to face its own problems and deal with them.

Ants and TCS's ingenious experiment
If you spill a tablespoon of sugar in the middle of your kitchen floor, you may not have seen an ant anywhere for weeks, but certainly within a day, they will have an ant superhighway that Al Gore's daddy would be proud of meandering through your cupboards and onto the kitchen floor.

And so it seems to be with TCS, ingeniously testing the amount of "sugar" needed to draw the anti-immigration lunatics into the discussion forums. The past two articles were articles about immigration, with not a mention or hint of "illegal immigration" and they drew the anti-illegal-immigrant vitriol that would be expected of an article praising the undocumented who work our fields and are rebuilding our storm-ravaged sub-sea-level city.

And of course, this article talks about Mexican politics, which ought to be something we're interested in, seeing as Mexico is our 2nd largest supplier of oil and our largest supplier of Tequila. It mentions nothing of illegal immigration and nothing of immigration. But still, the queen ant seems to have found it and soon the other ants will follow.

One wonders what the limits of this experiment will be. The World Cup might have provided a great test case had Mexico avoided elimination and had any Americans (self included) cared a wink about soccer. The World Baseball Championships were a bit too early in this sequence. Imagine the fodder they would have provided for the anti-Mexican contingent on these boards.

I think TCS should hold a contest open to its current and aspiring writers. The object would be to write the article that most subtly provokes the anti-Mexico crowd into an illiterary riot on these boards. My entry into the contest would coincide with the start of NFL training camps and use Michael Vick as a metaphor for US foreign policy. One of the ants would surely pick up that Mr. Vick once used the pseudonym "Ron Mexico" to protect his medical privacy. A fitting award for the winner of this contest would be a gold plated can of Raid, engraved with a caricature of Pat Buchanan as a cockroach.

Talk about clueless
What an inteeresting comment that focued on the article and provided data about the Mexican government; its political parties; and how it might impact on the US.

Indeed we do see who the coachroaches are.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Paranoia as default mode of argument on the net
ThomsonJackass wrote:

"Indeed we do see who the coachroaches are."

Andrew Orlowski, using the just concluded Network Neutrality debate as an example, concludes that the default mode of argument on the net seems to be paranoia.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/06/30/activism_is_a_game/

It's precisely the point I have been making with a little witticism in these threads lately. TCS author discusses anything remotely Mexicoish and Thomson and the other usual suspects take the bait and launch their diatribes against illegal immigration, filthy Mexicans, and crab enchiladas.

Look, half of America hates you anyway because you're Republican-leaning. Half of the other half laughs at you because you're economic illiterates. Why not shut up and regroup a little instead of continually reinforcing the judgments your fellow citizens have already made about your cause? Or maybe we need a new national holiday: "Give your Paranoid Neighbor a Shovel Day". It would be the funniest day of the year.

Roaches of the world unite!
More biogtry, leftwing moonbatism and shoe drooling.

Res ipas loquitur.

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