All of the following statements appear
to be true at the same time:
- Mexico is a rich country.
is a country where a majority, certainly by American standards, is poor.
Mexico, people work incredibly hard.
- In Mexico, people would work even
harder if their work paid off.
- Mexico is a country that has not advanced
in the way its resources and hard work could have, and should have, enriched it.
And Mexico is providing a standard of living for tens of millions of its people
that could only be dreamed of in Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and elsewhere in Latin
be reporting for the NewsHour for the next week here in Mexico, based in the capital
and getting out to the rest of the country as much as possible. There's something
new happening in Mexico -- or at least still relatively new -- competitive politics
where the conclusions of elections are not already known, where the stakes, control
of the powerful central government, are very high. And in this case it's really
impossible to anticipate the outcome.
We talked to voters last night --
Sunday night -- at a street fair in a poor barrio in Mexico City. It was the feast
of St John the Baptist. A local bishop was on hand for first communions and confirmations.
There were rides for the kids and street food for everyone. A taco vendor dicing,
frying, filling tortillas, and sweating in the searing heat over his griddle said
he makes little more than $5 a day, and he's voting for [Andres Manuel Lopez]
Obrador. A woman roasting corn, slathering the ears with mayonnaise and grated
cheese, talked of her worries for her children, and education, and said she too
supports Obrador. But right along with those made up minds were people who said
they had little faith in the ability of Mexico's government to improve the lives
of poor people, and that all the candidates were pretty much the same, some adding
for emphasis, all liars and thieves. A group of young guys talking to one of our
team said they make little more than $2 a day for eight hours -- even in a place
where it's much cheaper to live than the United States, that is barely enough
The NewsHour team was on hand when the candidate of current
President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, known by its Spanish acronym P-A-N,
or pan, the word for bread, filled the vast Azteca stadium in the capital. Most
national polls have Felipe Calderon, a former energy minister, running slightly
behind, but within the margin of error. President Fox was the first PAN president,
the first elected national leader to break the 70-plus year grip of the Institutional
Revolution Party or PRI. The PAN is a middle class, Roman Catholic party in its
orientation, appealing to aspirational Mexicans who lost plenty in the economic
boom and bust cycles overseen by the PRI -- savings wiped out -- costs of mortgages
and car loans spiraling out of control. President Fox promised an end to all that,
and while there has been dissatisfaction that the changes haven't gone far enough.
Inflation is under control; the economy has put together back-to-back-to-back
years of solid economic growth. I'll continue Mexico's transformation, Calderon
Among the leading candidates, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is promising
something different from his PAN rival. The candidate of a coalition of left-of-center
parties led by the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, Obrador is a critic
of NAFTA, a critic of globalization, and someone who has made siding with the
country's poor the centerpiece of his campaign. Today we watched him campaign
in the state of Mexico, in the state capital Toluca. The happy crowds, waving
flags, singing songs, chanting slogans, know Obrador's campaign theme so well,
they shout its conclusion when it comes up in a speech -- to do good for all,
but first for the poor.
Toluca was hopping today. The roads into town jammed
by people from throughout central Mexico coming for the rally, buses hired by
the party filled with supporters in trademark yellow t-shirts bearing the initials
AMLO: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. In a long address to a crowd filling the vast
central plaza of Toluca, Obrador said neo-liberalism, the word used throughout
Latin America to describe global capitalism, has failed Mexico, and especially
Mexico's poor. He promised to defeat what he called the rightists of the PRI and
the PAN. He said he wanted hard-working Mexicans to stay in their own country,
not feel pressured by low wages to head north to the United States. It was a speech
much longer than the ones given by presidential candidates in the United States
-- and a more complex argument than you're likely to hear at a rally north of
the same time, it was a rally, it was a party -- one of Mexico's famous masked
wrestlers was on hand -- bands played reggae and hip-hop, and traditional mariachi
music. Vendors criss-crossed the giant plaza with ices, roast nuts, a vinegary
corn and pepper salad, and flat bread pizzas, made with blue corn crust, slathered
with refried beans, grated cheese and slices of tomato.
A popular item at
today's rally was a mask bearing a caricature likeness of Obrador himself. The
drawing turns the smiling 53 year old into a boyish, appealing face to wear over
your own. These are not unauthorized drawings; the toothy, grinning cartoon also
adorns official campaign posters. A supporter in the crowd even gave the candidate
a mask of himself. He didn't put it on, but can you imagine the Republicans mass
producing a cartoon likeness of George W. Bush -- or the Democrats caricaturing
the monumental jawline of Sen. John Kerry?
In two hours it was all over,
and Toluca got back to work. Commuting, doing the marketing, selling to the shoppers.
Though Wal-Mart was not far away, the vast Mercado Juarez sold much of what Tolucans
need for the week -- hardware, shoes, flowers, music, tabloid magazines. Corn
tumbled from a truck just driven in from a farm further north. A team of florists
made funeral wreaths, the bright yellow orange of squash flowers bumped up against
the deep green of fresh chiles and nopales, that is, cactus petals.
American-born pollster Dan Lund says many of these voters will be ticket-splitters,
that's something new on the Mexican political scene; they'll support the long
established PRI for local offices, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the man who
promises to take care of the poor first, for president of Mexico.
more on this election, and the other candidates, later in the week.