New York Times: 2012 elecciones México (el bonito, la quinceañera y el viejo)

A Wary Mexico Sizes Up Contenders for the Presidency

Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Josefina Vázquez Mota, the candidate for the National Action Party, greeted supporters in Mexico City.

By
Published: March 31, 2012

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — It is essentially a battle, cynical commentators joke, between the Pretty Boy, the Quinceañera Doll and the Tired Has-Been.

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Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate for the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, in Mexico City.

Mexico’s presidential campaign has begun, and the disdain seeping from these common descriptions of the three main candidates reflects what experts say are low expectations. Mexican voters, polls show, have been losing faith in democracy as their nation teeters between modern success and violent failure.

This is a country of conflicting messages, of economic growth and decapitated heads. It is the United States’ third-largest trading partner and a majority middle-class country, but one held back by corruption, impunity, poverty, red tape, monopolies and a culture of discomfort with confrontation.

Whoever wins on July 1 will inherit a Mexico disillusioned and stuck, caught between forces of the past that resist change and the frustration of those who have begun to expect more from their leaders.

Crime in particular requires immediate attention. More than 50,000 people have died in drug-related killings since late 2006, and the justice system is a farce: more than 98 percent of crimes go unpunished, according to studies of government data.

“Mexico is at a crossroads in terms of dealing with organized crime,” said Pamela K. Starr, an expert on Mexican politics at the University of Southern California. Referring to the current president, Felipe Calderón, she said: “It’s quite clear that the government absolutely must confront organized crime, and it’s absolutely clear that the Calderón strategy hasn’t worked.”

The country’s oil sector also needs an overhaul to turn around the money-losing, state-owned monopoly, Pemex, and bring in private investment to develop new reserves. Meanwhile, declining illegal immigration to the United States has the potential to alter the dynamics of American-Mexican relations.

Most voters, accustomed to unresponsive government after decades of single-party rule, do not expect even most of these challenges to be addressed.

And yet, the candidates’ first official campaign events on Friday revealed more than might have been expected — about their sales pitches and personalities, at least. Policy proposals were less forthcoming. But this year’s race is shorter because of new laws (which even ban negative campaign ads), so for all three contenders the past few days were the start of a three-month sprint to Election Day, during which they must answer the core questions of their candidacies.

Enrique Peña Nieto, the telegenic front-runner sometimes called the Pretty Boy (or Gel Boy because of his styled hair), needs to persuade voters that he represents a new, corruption-free Institutional Revolutionary Party, or P.R.I., the party that ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000. But can he prove he is not just a handsome meringue atop an old authoritarian party?

Josefina Vázquez Mota, a former education secretary under the current president, has perhaps a greater challenge. She has been called the Quinceañera Doll because she is always smiling, but her party — the P.A.N., or National Action Party — has been in charge for 12 years, a time of rising violence and continued corruption. Can she convince Mexicans that she represents a break from her party and become the country’s first female president?

And even for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a liberal former mayor of Mexico City who lost the last election in 2006 by 0.6 percentage points, the past and future compete. The oldest of the candidates, sometimes called the Tired Has-Been, he must answer the question of whether he has put aside the radical populism of his last campaign to govern as a moderate.

Much Hope, Few Details

Green neon glow sticks and oversize beach balls flew through the air — along with some young supporters who crowd-surfed on the outstretched arms of their friends and fellow fans, who all wore white in well-organized solidarity.

“It’s the color of hope,” said Ricardo Sánchez, 21, smiling with a bunch of friends just steps from a mariachi band. “We’ve got a lot of hope in this guy.”

Even before Mr. Peña Nieto, 45, appeared at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, the first moment he could legally begin campaigning, the rally in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, felt more like a victory party than a campaign kick-off. Thousands of supporters filled one of the city’s main squares to hear a speech that was heavy on promises and light on details about how those goals would be achieved.

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Acerca de Gilberto Lozano
Fundador del Congreso Nacional Ciudadano

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