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Mexican election protests grow

Dan Grech Jul 12, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It might be September before we know who’s the official winner in Mexico’s presidential election. The Federal Electoral Tribunal has that long to decide. But leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador isn’t waiting. He lost the recount 244-thousand votes…about half a percent. And he’s now demanding a *hand recount. But he’s also taking his case to the streets. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Dan Grech reports.

DAN GRECH: Today tens of thousands of protestors are gathering in mountain towns and sprawling industrial cities across Mexico. They are farmers, factory workers and housewives who feel Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was defrauded in the election. And they will converge on Sunday in the capital city in what’s anticipated to be the biggest demonstration in modern Mexican history — 800,000 people are expected.

Lopez Obrador has already shown he can draw a crowd quickly. Last Saturday, a quarter of a million people gathered at Mexico City’s central plaza to protest the election result. Lopez Obrador has asked marchers to remain peaceful. But more radical elements of his Party of the Democratic Revolution are calling for vandalism, blockades, even takeovers of bridges and refineries. That could cripple Mexico’s fairly stable economy. And that, experts say, could easily backfire against Lopez Obrador.

DENISE DRESSER: Lopez Obrador knows that it would be precisely treading down that path of confrontation that would keep him out of Los Pinos, out of the presidential residence, forever.

That’s Denise Dresser, a political analyst in Mexico City. She says Mexico is not like Bolivia or Ecuador or Argentina, countries where street protests forced sitting presidents from office. Mexico created an independent electoral institute to root out the fraud that once plagued its elections. This new electoral system is held in high regard by international observers and most Mexicans.

Lopez Obrador is asking the federal electoral institute for a ballot-by-ballot recount. His challenge now is to use the protests to demonstrate his political and economic muscle without destabilizing the country.

DRESSER: He’s walking down the razor’s edge. He’s probably going to generate a lot of animosity among those who think that he should just call it quits.

Mexico is a country divided. Factories that hum along the US-Mexico border are generating jobs and economic growth. That’s conservative candidate Felipe Calderon country. It’s the south that’s hurting.

The 1994 free trade agreement with the US and Canada displaced tens of thousands of farmers. Workers were unable to compete with cheaper, subsidized agricultural products pouring in from the US. These displaced workers and their families will be among the hundreds of thousands expected in Mexico City come Sunday. Victor Herrera is a Mexico analyst with Standard & Poors.

VICTOR HERRERA: If this becomes a very lengthy event — more than let’s say a month — it’s going to have an impact on the exchange rate, on the bond prices, on the stock exchange. And the worst case scenario would be if it has an impact on foreign direct investments.

Mexico needs that foreign capital to upgrade its infrastructure and to start new businesses.

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

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