Mexico City, Mexico — Let me know if you’ve heard this one before: An incumbent party led by a minority candidate is seeking re-election on a message of “change” even though they’ve been at the wheel of a floundering economy, an unpopular war and countless scandals.
To your average American that sounds like a pretty fair description of the Obama campaign in 2012, however to our neighbors south of the border in Mexico this is an equally apt description of Josefina Vazquez-Mota, presidential candidate of the incumbent PAN party and latest victim of the “change” mantra in politics. On Sunday July 1st Mexico elected a new president, (Enrique Pena-Nieto with about 40% of the vote) while most Americans are reeling from last week’s Supreme Court rulings there are some big reasons why what happened in Mexico is important to what goes on in the U.S. of A.
1. We could see a lot more “DREAMers” soon. Mexico’s economy has been stagnant for the last several years along with the United States, so much so that illegal immigration to the U.S. has actually gone down as many illegals have returned to Mexico unable to find U.S. work. However, Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s new president has a less than stellar relationship with the indigenous peoples (Indians) in Mexico. An increase in political asylum seekers as well as displaced workers is pretty likely now that Mexico has chosen their new president.
2. Want to see what happens when voting rights are suppressed? People get angry, people start marching in the streets and whole elections are considered invalid. I worked as an elections observer for the 3rd time on Sunday’s election and the charges of corruption and vote stealing are rampant in Mexico this election. Of course there are some elements of Mexican voting that don’t make sense to Americans. These include voting on paper ballots into clear plastic boxes and having flashy colored ballots to help those who are illiterate, but the similarities are more striking. With Republican legislatures in Michigan, Florida, and Ohio in particular going out of their way to make voting more difficult it only increases the likelihood of a contested and volatile election. We only need to look a few miles south to see what that is not a good thing.
3. Change versus more of the same or even worse? One of the things I always try to point out to my political science classes is that there are some pretty basic principles in politics and it doesn’t matter where you are, what year it is or what country you’re in, some things will always stays the same. Mexico’s elections could be a textbook case for why Romney or Obama will win this fall. The PRI (Revolutionary Party) ran Mexico for 70 years, then lost consecutive elections (2000 and 2006) to the right wing PAN party, and now have moved back into power after a 12 year hiatus. How does that happen? How does a party that had an extremely soiled brand of one party rule for 7 decades convince a nation of people to put them back into power?
First, the incumbent party the PAN chose a woman to be their candidate (Josefina Vazquez-Mota) there is nothing inherently wrong with that except they totally misread what the public wanted. Change is scary, change requires hard work and ultimately change requires taking risks. Choosing a woman, who ran on a campaign of being different and changing Mexico was the last thing voters wanted. They want things to go back to normal, even if normal is the return of a corrupt and non-democratic leaning centrist party in the PRI. Vazquez-Mota was in a tough position anyway due to Mexico’s poor economy and the unpopular and violent war against drug cartels that her predecessor Felipe Calderon, started, but her inability to see that Change unfulfilled turns into a romanticized view of the past is a lesson that Barack Obama would be wise to pay attention to.
4. Forget Blake Lively, SAVAGES is a fantasy film. I know that at least a few dozen Americans are going to go out and waste their money on the highly racialized and unrealistic drugs, revenge, action flick SAVAGES but rest assured this drug war is not nearly as cute as that film makes it out to be. Taking the fight directly to drug cartels is what got the PAN party in Mexico defeated on Sunday and even the U.S.’s limited involvement has resulted in Attorney General Eric Holder getting cited for contempt for the “Fast and Furious” anti-drug program. The horrible truth is that Mexico’s new president has said little specifically about how he will combat the out of control drug wars that cripple what’s left of Mexico’s civil society and economy. The cartels have seen such a rapid expansion of political and economic power that it’s unlikely that newly elected president Nieto will be able to get away with the old PRI policy of buying off cartels in exchange for toned down violence. Since 2008 the leading cause of death amongst 15-49 year old Mexicans in homicide, and that isn’t likely to go down with Nieto. That means we can expect the drug violence to continue to spread north, from southern Texas up to Michigan, with a whole slew of immigrants and refugees to boot.
5. Obama Needs Friends. George Bush heavily benefitted from his close relationship with Mexican President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) not just internationally but politically. Fox’s popularity helped Bush with Mexican American voters, an increasingly important block in American politics. It will be interesting to see what direction Enrique Pena Nieto swings regarding the American presidential election. While there are plenty in Mexico who loathe the idea of his party coming back into power he did win 40% of the vote and a good relationship with Obama, could help the president with Mexican American voters. Moreover, if Romney can pull off a meeting with the new president that might be the boost he needs amongst a community that is currently polling for Obama 3 to 1.
You likely won’t hear any of the above facts over the next few days since the American press pays little or no attention to what happens in foreign elections in the Western Hemisphere (I bet you a million dollars you don’t know when the next election in Canada is!). However, Mexico is an essential trade partner, a decent political predictor and the source of millions of dollars in labor and political and policy strife in the United States. It would do us some good to pay attention to what just happened there, because what happened in Mexico is going to reverberate in the U.S. for years to come.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.