Mexico election could put leftist on U.S. doorstep


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Mexico election could put leftist on U.S. doorstep
Tue Jun 20, 2006 5:08 PM ET

By Alistair Bell

MEXICO CITY, June 20 (Reuters) - Uneasy at election victories by leftists in 
Latin America, the United States may soon feel the region's wave of change 
lapping up against its southern border if a former indigenous welfare officer 
wins Mexico's presidential election on July 2.

"At stake is the future course of America's influential southern neighbor at a 
time when Mexico and the U.S. wrangle over border security and immigration 
issues, and as other Latin American nations turn to left-leaning leaders," U.S. 
opinion pollster John Zogby said.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is slightly ahead in opinion polls but 
concerns in Washington that he may join an anti-U.S. axis led by Venezuelan 
President Hugo Chavez if he becomes president are unfounded, aides say.

"He is focused primarily on Mexico. He has no plans to seek alliances with other
countries to try to confront the U.S. empire," said Ricardo Monreal, a senior 
aide to the leftist.

Chavez is the most vocal U.S. foe in Latin America and is allied with Bolivian 
President Evo Morales and Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Lopez Obrador has rarely traveled abroad and has little interest in foreign 
affairs. He would devote his six-year term to the huge task of narrowing 
Mexico's income gap and raising millions out of poverty, Monreal said.

Rather than looking to Latin American revolutionaries like Che Guevara, Lopez 
Obrador lists Mexican reformers from the 19th and 20th centuries as role models 
and admires moderate Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

There is little room for ideological clashes between Mexico and the United 
States, analysts say.

Just as Washington needs Mexico's help in securing the border against illegal 
immigrants and possible terrorist infiltration, Mexico's economy relies on the 
United States, a partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.


Lopez Obrador, once an Indian welfare official in his native Tabasco state, is 
aware of that, said former ambassador Andres Rozental, of the Mexican Council on
Foreign Affairs.

"He's not going to be gratuitously aggressive. He's not going to be openly 
anti-American, no president of Mexico at this stage, with NAFTA, could afford to
be," he said.

Mexico cooperated closely with the United States on border security and drug 
trafficking under outgoing President Vicente Fox, although it did oppose the 
U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A narrow majority of opinion polls in the last week give Lopez Obrador a lead 
but some, including Zogby International, put Fox's former energy minister 
Calderon ahead.

Calderon is a pro-business conservative favored by Washington, although he has 
criticized plans in the U.S. Congress to put a security fence along hundreds of 
miles of the border to curb illegal immigrants.

"Obviously, the United States would be more comfortable with Calderon because he
is going to be much more predictable and he also is more in tune with the U.S. 
model for the Mexican economy but at the same time the United States is more 
than willing to work with Lopez Obrador," said Pamela Starr of Eurasia Group 
consultants in New York.

Although he has said he wants good relations with the United States, Lopez 
Obrador has a tendency toward fierce rhetoric that reminds opponents of Chavez.

He warned last month he would not be "a puppet, a plaything" of the United 
States and has said frequently that he would block tariff-free U.S. corn and 
bean imports due to come into force in 2008.

"You see some worrying demagogic tendencies in Lopez Obrador that you don't see 
in Calderon," said Gordon Hanson of the University of California, San Diego.

(Additional reporting by Greg Brosnan)

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. 


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