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Future of Mexico at hand

Dan Grech Jun 29, 2006

PHOTO GALLERY: Mexico election

TESS VIGELAND: As of today the campaign mudslinging in Mexico has to stop. Really. It has to. It’s the law. Doesn’t that sound nice? So that gives Mexicans a few days to mull their choices before they vote Sunday. It’s expected to be the tightest election in decades. Polls show 1 in 10 voters — that’s 7 million of them — haven’t made up their minds. Most of those swing voters are in the vast, congested suburbs that ring Mexico’s major cities. Dan Grech traveled from the Marketplace America’s Desk at WLRN to one of the key political battlegrounds.


DAN GRECH: To get a sense of Ecatepec’s rapid growth, try driving down its main thoroughfare, La VA­a Morelos.

[Sound of traffic in Ecatepec.]

And that’s on a Sunday morning.

Ecatepec is a lower-middle-class suburb of 2.5 million people just north of Mexico City. People here have benefited from the economic stability achieved by outgoing President Vicente Fox. Clearly, workers are now able to afford cars.

Ecatepec means “windy hill” in the Aztec language. That’s a poetic description for a hillside that’s now covered in tiny, tightly packed concrete houses.

Schoolteacher Moises Garcia, his wife and son live in this newly constructed world. They walk the crowded downtown streets on their way to Sunday Mass. The elections are Sunday, and Garcia still doesn’t know who to vote for. This has been one of the most acrimonious electoral campaigns in Mexican history. Garcia’s turned off by it all.

MOISES GARCIA [interpreter]: All they do is fight. Who stole more, who stole less. Who got caught and who didn’t. I want to hear concrete proposals.

Garcia is part of an emerging middle class in Mexico that pollsters say will swing this election. Garcia’s drawn to leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, who says his policies will put more money in people’s pockets.

Garcia could use the cash; he wants to buy a car. But he also has a mortgage on a new, two-bedroom apartment.He can’t afford another economic meltdown like the one in 1994. That’s what makes the dire warnings of candidate Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party resonate. Calderon says Lopez Obrador will spend down the treasury and bring on inflation and disaster.

It all leaves Garcia stumped: he wants the car, he’s afraid of losing the house.

And so Mexicans everywhere face a stark choice: Do they go for Calderon and a model that’s proven and stable?Or do they take a risk on Lopez Obrador, someone who promises more?

Three days before the election, 1 in 10 Mexicans are still on the fence. Eduardo Sojo is the principal economic advisor to Felipe Calderon:

EDUARDO SOJO: This campaign is a referendum between two economic models. The economic models of Felipe Calderon, who will promote stability, investment, employment. And the economic model that the other candidate defends, that will increase expenditures, that will give us a lot of debt and will return us to the crisis that we already lived in Mexico.

Lopez Obrador says he won’t incur debt. He says rooting out government inefficiency and corruption will pay for social programs that give Mexican families more to spend. Rogelio Ramirez de la O is his principal economic advisor:

ROGELIO RAMIREZ DE LA O: The weighted average improvement in household income is going to be 20 percent. But not because of a grant, or an increase in salary, or anything dictatorial.

James R. Jones is the former US Ambassador to Mexico. He says neither candidate will spell economic disaster for the country.

JAMES R. JONES: It would be economically suicidal for Mexico to roll the clock back and to reestablish some of the terrible economic regimes of their past history. There isn’t anyone who wants to commit that kind of economic hari kari.

But on the ground in Mexico, this election has taken on incredibly high stakes. The decision of who to vote for divides towns, streets, even households. Ciudad Neza is another densely packed bedroom community of 1.3 million people just outside Mexico City. Ciudad Neza’s full name is Nezahualcóyotl, an Aztec word meaning hungry coyote. It’s an apt description for the people here who are just scraping by.

For 12 years Mario Rivera and his wife Hortencia have run an ice cream shop in Ciudad Neza. A lone customer pays for two scoops of chocolate chip [Sound of customer saying thank you, Hortencia saying goodbye and coin dropping into box.]

They’ve seen their business decline as new shopping malls draw away customers. Mario says he and his wife agree on their problems; they disagree on a solution. Mario supports Calderon’s more conservative approach.Hortencia’s ready for a change.

HORTENCIA [interpreter]: I respect my husband’s opinion, that the opposition Congress didn’t let Fox do everything he wanted. But for me, there are many things that needed to change and didn’t.

Mexico is a country divided. And Sunday is a referendum on which vision for its future it prefers.

In Mexico City, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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