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Friday, July 07, 2006

Playing it safe

AP's Julie Watson writes about the now-officially-declared victory of conservative Felipe Calderon in Mexico.
Felipe Calderon won Mexico's presidential election not because of who he is, but because of who he isn't. After peacefully ushering in democracy only six years ago, many Mexicans were not ready to shake up the status quo and flip the country on its head with a leftist leader who promised to put its nearly 50 million poor first.

While Mexicans were largely disappointed that President Vicente Fox did not do more to improve their daily lives, he also did not make things worse. The former Coca-Cola executive's six years in office have been marked by slow but steady economic growth, without the kind of financial meltdowns that had plagued the country since the 1960s.

In the end, those who voted for Calderon opted to play it safe. Many worried his main rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, would send Mexico down the path of other Latin American countries like Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez's socialist policies have driven away foreign investment.
In a country closely tied to the United States and where American companies are the largest private-sector employers, many believed the risks were too great.

Some worried a Lopez Obrador presidency would return the country to its boom-and-bust years, when the peso rode a roller-coaster and many people felt their savings were better off under a mattress than in banks.
There's plenty more where that came from, but I've got so much to comment on from just these paragraphs that I'll just get started.

  • First, Calderon won, if he really did, with 35.88 percent of the vote. No process can be called democratic when the "winner" is opposed by nearly two-thirds of the voters. Yet Mexico, and almost all US jurisdictions, allow this travesty to continue. Some people actually believe that democracy is worth fighting for (which it is in some circumstances), and that that is what the US is doing in Iraq (which it clearly isn't), but that democracy isn't worth the trouble of runoff elections or other procedures to more fairly select government officials.
  • Second, Watson uses an old rhetorical trick: "Many Mexicans," "Many worried...," "Many believed...," "Some worried..." Many, some--about as nondescript and useless as you can get. Undoubtedly true--and completely meaningless. I'm sure that "many Mexicans" also believe in biblical inerrancy or that George Bush is brilliant; "many Mexicans," just like "many Americans," believe any fool thing you could mention.
  • Third, if Fox did not make things worse, then, Ms. Watson, who are these 50 million poor, and why have so many of them left their homes to sneak across the border to take crappy jobs in the US? (A sort-of paraphrase of an alleged quote from Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov when he visited Berlin in 1940. The meeting had to move to an underground bunker due to bombing. Molotov's German counterpart, Ribbentrop, told Molotov that the British were defeated--no longer a problem. Molotov reportedly responded "Then why are we in this bunker, sir, and whose bombs are these exploding all around us?")
  • Fourth, and most importantly, do "many" Mexicans actually still believe that foreign investment is the key to solving Mexico's problems, rather than a major cause of them? As in Venezuela, most foreign "investment" in Mexico in the past has been intended to rob it of its resources or exploit its cheap labor. While no longer possessing oil resources as large as Venezuela's, Mexico is still a rich country, with oil, natural gas, gold, silver, beautiful tourist areas, outstanding people, and many other assets. Foreign investment just means that foreigners benefit from these resources. Chavez determined that Venezuela's oil wealth, rather than going to American stockholders and the wealthy elite of Caracas, could go instead to improving the education, health care, and general well-being of all Venezuelans. I don't know actual percentages, any more than Ms. Watson apparently does, but I do know that there are "many" Mexicans who realize that a better future for Mexico will come from within Mexico--not from foreign investment. This is one of the key aspects of the Zapatista campaign, which began on January 1, 1994--the day NAFTA went into effect. (I realize that a big part of the reason that the Chavez comparison worked against Lopez Obrador was that Chavez dissed Vicente Fox with a televised snub last year, as Watson reports.)
Lopez Obrador is challenging the results, and apparently "many" Mexicans will take to the streets this weekend to protest the now-declared result. I don't know if there was significant fraud, but it should at least hearten AMLO's supporters to see him at least put up a good fight--not cave in as we saw Gore and Kerry do here in the face of much fishier election shananigans.