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Column 032706 Luken

Monday, March 27, 2006

 

Venezuela Charged with Backing Mexico’s Lopez Obrador

 

By Carlos Luken

 

With but a hundred days left before what could be modern Mexico’s most important election ever, people sense an anxiety in the air.

 

After decades of paternalistic administrations that dwarfed and confused Mexican’s ability to understand democracy, citizens were elevated during the 2000 elections to the position of deciding their own leadership.  

 

Many saw Vicente Fox’s presidential victory as the democratic milestone for Mexico’s advance into its third century. Now some consider it another of many squandered opportunities.

 

After the 2000 elections, Mexico’s political establishment that included the administration, Congress and political parties, set about to continue its “business as usual” style of government. Although Fox made inroads by advancing some democratic principles, many bureaucrats, legislators and parties acted conventionally.

 

Perhaps the establishment’s main fault was refusing to identify changing demographic trends that started in the 1980s. Then, Mexico became a nation of around 50 percent juvenile population. Along with their vibrant potential, they had no background in the country’s discreditable political past and they were fertile for new ideas.

 

Unfortunately the political structure, acting inflexibly, was non-responsive to the young. Refusing to change it simply offered opportunities to those who would accept the existing status quo, leaving many frustrated.

 

Management and employees too were caught unprepared for the skill changes most new North American Free Trade Agreement attracted companies required. Unemployment and underemployment grew, as workers were unable to assimilate into the workplace, which led in part to migration to the United States to find jobs.

 

Now Mexico’s privileged few face the consequences of their na´vetÚ. After nearly a century of negligent condescension, they fear that the 2006 elections will not only be the result of campaigning between political adversaries, but too decided by the disenfranchised. This could prove to be a major turning point, representing a generational and cultural confrontation that would determine not only the country’s presidency but also its future.

 

As July looms closer, the eight to ten point lead in the polls of Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador seems even bigger, as he goes about his populist campaign offering promises that most economists think will be impossible to fulfill. This while many of the lesser-advantaged grasp for the hope offered for a better way of life.

 

Both National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon, who is currently running second, and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Roberto Madrazo are independently attacking the PRD candidate. They caution against his messianic posturing, predicting a reversal of Mexico’s democratic progress and the possible return of past economic crises caused by populist policies if Lopez Obrador wins.

 

But PRD followers continue to support Lopez Obrador.

 

Until recently Lopez Obrador’s campaign strategy was straightforward, full of criticism while he avoided face-to-face confrontations. In contrast to his opponent’s mass media campaigns, he preferred to hold rallies in impoverished districts and towns. His approach was simple – make outlandish promises without explaining specifics; blame Fox and other parties for causing Mexico’s problems; and claim that all critics are part of a conspiracy.

 

But sensing that his rival’s campaigns are making inroads, and that his resistance to confront his adversaries is perceived as a weakness, Lopez Obrador reluctantly agreed to participate in a single debate on June 6.  A debate without the PRD candidate is currently scheduled for April 25.

 

Uncharacteristically however his timing was off, for Lopez Obrador didn’t count on being broadsided by friendly fire.

 

For some time accusations and media reports have circulated alleging that President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is secretly sustaining the Lopez Obrador campaign. Rumors of Venezuelan financed “Bolivarian brigades” working with campaign organizations and at events. As these were uncorroborated however, no charges were made either by opposition parties, electoral authorities or foreign ministry officials.

 

But the gloves came off following an appearance by Venezuela’s ambassador to Mexico at a PRD rally. This followed by Chavez himself publicly expressing support for Lopez Obrador during a press conference.

 

All of which led to calls for censure by opposition party members in Congress.

 

After heated debate, and fruitless denials by PRD legislators, a recommendation was sent to the foreign office to issue a letter of protest due to the intrusion by Chavez in Mexico’s internal affairs.

 

The Chavez intervention has also revived allegations of illegal campaign contributions, both financial and from the presence of Bolivarian brigades in Mexico. And this has partially at least exposed a flank in the Lopez Obrador campaign, one that opponents hope to seize upon.

 

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Carlos Luken, a MexiData.info columnist, is a Mexico-based businessman and consultant.  He can be reached via e-mail at ilcmex@yahoo.com.