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Turning the Page in Mexico

Three months from now, when Mexico’s new president Felipe Calderón takes office, many will consider it a dubious honor. These are perhaps the only two certainties in Mexico’s politics right now. With oil prices higher than ever, its country-risk premiums lower than ever, remittances from abroad, tourism revenues, and foreign investment hitting all time highs, and annual GDP growth estimated at 4.2% for this year, Mexicans – in many ways – have never had it so good.

Indeed, after ten years of uninterrupted macroeconomic stability – something Mexico had not experienced since the 1960’s – the middle class has expanded dramatically, and reasonably priced bank credit is now available to millions who had been excluded in the past. Yet, despite these robust changes, poverty remains widespread, inequality abysmal, and social resentment is on the rise. This is why Calderón’s opponent in July’s presidential election, the populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, obtained such a large percentage of the vote compared to the Mexican left’s previous high-water mark in the election of 2000. But it was not enough to win an election that López Obrador and his backers thought was in the bag.

The extremely tight race – Calderón won by 0.5% of the vote – and the profound disappointment suffered by López Obrador and his supporters led them to contest the ruling of Mexico’s electoral authorities, and to refuse to acknowledge Calderón’s victory. Instead, López Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, and his supporters demanded a vote-by-vote recount, which is not mandated – though it is not proscribed – by the country’s electoral laws. The Electoral Court, however, decided otherwise. This is where Mexico stands today: a mess by any definition, with no obvious solution in sight.


In the long run, the answer undoubtedly lies in the transformation of the Mexican left, and partly also of the Mexican right. For years, both were de facto subsumed within the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for seven decades. That epoch came to an end in 2000, and will not return. Today, right and left, as well as the PRI itself, are all separate entities, and have a great deal of reconstruction to do.