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Protests escalate in Mexico

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: In Mexico, supporters of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are stepping up their protest against last month’s election result. Yesterday, Obrador supporters blocked entrance to three major foreign owned banks, a move unlikely to reassure foreign investors. Felipe Calderon has been judged the winner by the country’s electoral tribunal. Speaking to elected officials, Calderon urged reconciliation. He appealed for an atmosphere of understanding, tolerance, and reconciliation that would allow the country to move on. I spoke early to reporter Franc Contreras in Mexico City. He described the latest protests.

FRANC CONTRERAS: Well, the demonstrators have been pulling off surprise protests. They took over several headquarters of international banks, for example. The banks tell me that they’re operating normally, but it’s certainly a message to foreign investors, namely these big banks, and the protestors are saying that this political crisis will affect them, too. Also, the protestors took control of a number of toll booths on important highways leading into Mexico City. That cost companies operating the booths and the government about $70,000. So we’re not really talking about a great deal of money on the scale of things here, but the message was certainly aimed at the government. The protestors are saying that they could block off important highways, thus affecting transportation of goods and people into Mexico City.

THOMAS: How are foreign businesses responding to all of this?

CONTRERAS: Well, they’re being very cautious, really, at this stage. There’s a sense that this could definitely affect foreign business, foreign investment here.I spoke with Jonathan Heath. He’s the chief economist of HSBC, the big British bank, and their headquarters here. Here’s what he said.

JONATHAN HEATH: Lopez Obrador right now, at this point, can not be considered, I think, a presidential candidate anymore. He’s transforming, and he’s becoming a leader of a social movement.

And also, the first actions that he has carried out, creating all these civil disobedience movements, have actually made him lose some of the support.

CONTRERAS: Mr. Heath represents the concerns of international investors and business here in Mexico, Mark.

THOMAS: What was the strategic reason for picking these three foreign banks as a focus of the blockades or sit-ins?

CONTRERAS: These, of course, are the major banks owned by U.S. companies and European companies, so the message is really very clear. That this is going to affect businesses at a very small scale and at the very largest scale, especially if this protest drags on.

THOMAS: Do you get any sense that the average citizen is fed up with Obrador and wishes he would just move on?

CONTRERAS: There are people who are certainly fed up with all of this: the traffic, you know, slowing things down. People trying to get to their offices that are having to walk great distances now. And many other people are concerned that the election has to come off as looking clean. If it’s not, this could be a major setback for Mexico. We could go back 20 years to the times when people had the perception that elections were not clean. All that is at stake at this stage.

THOMAS: Thanks a lot, Franc.

CONTRERAS: Thank you, Mark.

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