August 26, 2005

The Billion-Dollar Campaign Unfolds in the North

The Two Tabascans brought their political campaigns to the northern border states this week. Presidential hopefuls Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) toured Baja California and Chihuahua, respectively, gathering thousands of their supporters.

Madrazo, who is leaving the PRI’s national presidency to pursue the presidential nomination of his party, appeared before a large crowd in Tijuana variously estimated at between 10,000 and 25,000 people on Wednesday, August 17. Addressing an audience which included many people reportedly bused in from working-class neighborhoods, Madrazo focused on political and security issues.

The former Tabasco governor proposed limiting campaign spending and the length of electoral campaigns to 30 days, implementing “extraordinary” measures to combat public insecurity and clarifying voting procedures next year for Mexicans living abroad. Speaking in a city where narco-violence is chronic, Madrazo attributed much of the violent upsurge to the failure of intelligence organisms who spend more time “watching what journalists and politicians are saying instead of organized crime.”

Madrazo announced he was against costly, mail-reliant plans to allow Mexicans living abroad to vote in the July 2006 presidential election, because of the possibility of vote-buying and fradulent registrations. Sounding confident, the leading candidate for the PRI’s nomination vowed that his party will not repeat the same mistakes as it did in the 2000 election. “The PRI started late in 2000,” Madrazo said. “We had a campaign since November (1999), but we didn’t begin it until the month of March, wasting many months without a campaign.” The former Tabasco governor and one-time favorite of Carlos Salinas de Gortari was accompanied during his tour by the mayors of Tecate and Mexicali, Joaquin Sandoval and Samuel Ramos, as well as Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon.

Catching ample press attention were the fielding of municipal Tijuana workers to clean up the streets before Madrazo’s visit and the deployment of local police as escorts for the PRI candidate and his supporters during political events. Juan Manuel Gastelum Buenrostro, the Tijuana director of the National Action Party (PAN) criticized the municipal administration for spending public money on partisan purposes, but Madrazo insisted the PRI paid for his Tijuana campaigning.

In Chihuahua state, the PRD’s virtual candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, spoke to combined crowds of about 3,500 people in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City on Thursday, August 18. “El Peje,” as he is called, spoke about improving U.S.-Mexico relations, the North American Free Trade Agreement, public security and the social safety net. Lopez Obrador said border problems could not be solved by “walls, border patrols or the suspension and closure of consulates” and urged a more equitable relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. He proposed greater social spending on Mexico’s marginalized sectors, adding the money could come from curbing government waste, collecting more taxes and fighting corruption. Lopez Obrador emphasized the difference between his political project and those of the rival PRI and PAN parties, contending Mexico’s other two leading parties were like “Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola-no major difference.”

The former Mexico City mayor hinted at another possible revenue steam when he suggested that a social clause to the North American Free Trade Agreement could be negotiated to pay for development in Mexico. Canada and the United States could fund such a program, Lopez Obrador said. The PRD leader blamed corrupt police for the violence plaguing the north, promising to reform the Federal Attorney General’s Office and purge the judicial police. On the issue of the border femicides, Lopez Obrador promised not to opportunistically utilize the issue in the presidential campaign, but offered no specific proposal to address the crimes, other than saying he would energetically confront organized crime.

Accompanying Lopez Obrador on his Chihuahua tour was his high-level political operative, Manuel Camacho Solis, another former mayor of Mexico. Camacho rejected possibilities of a dialogue between Lopez Obrador and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the insurgent organization’s Subcomandante Marcos. The EZLN leadership recently blasted the PRD and Lopez Obrador, revealing deep rifts in the Mexican left. The Chiapas-based group accused the PRD of betrayal and pledged to sink the center-left’s party campaign.

Camacho said the Lopez Obrador camp had a different vision of political change than the EZLN, affirming that the PRD was banking on the electoral system to produce reforms while the EZLN was emulating Bolivian activists who prefer “the politics of the street.” Lopez Obrador faces other doubters on the left too, most notably from the PRD’s moral leader, Cuahtemoc Cardenas, who remarked this week that Lopez Obrador’s economic program was similar to those of previous presidents.

Although the 2006 presidential campaign has yet to formally commence, this week’s campaign activities in the north were a signal that the big race has really begun. Neither Madrazo nor Lopez Obrador have the official nominations of their respective parties, but most observers agree that both men practically have the internal selections in their pockets and will go head to head next year for the occupancy of Los Pinos. The presidential race will be Mexico’s most expensive ever. On Thursday, August 18, the country’s Federal Electoral

Institute announced a budget of slightly more than one billion dollars in public money for the campaign-a record amount.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Return to the Frontpage