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Mexico's Presidential Election: What Does It Mean For San Diego?

Mexican presidential candidate for the leftist coalition Progressive Movement of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, speaks during a rally at the Venustiano Carranza square in Mexico City, on April 16, 2012.
Yuri Cortez
Mexican presidential candidate for the leftist coalition Progressive Movement of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, speaks during a rally at the Venustiano Carranza square in Mexico City, on April 16, 2012.
We take a look at this weeks presidential election in Mexico and what it means to our region.
GUESTS:Jeffrey Davidow, former ambassador to Mexico from 1998-2002, former president of the Institute of the Americas at UCSD, senior counselor, the Cohen Group. Jill Replogle, KPBS Fronteras desk reporter

CAVANAUGH: This Sunday, Mexico will elect a new president. It could make a difference to people who live along the border and people in the United States. Let's talk about the main issues at stake in this coming election. We have on the line Jeffrey Davidow, former ambassador to Mexico. Thanks so much for joining us. DAVIDOW: Thanks for inviting me. CAVANAUGH: And we also have in studio Jill Replogle. Thank you for being here. REPLOGLE: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: Let's talk about the economic ties. How much interest does the U.S. have in Mexico's economic prosperity? DAVIDOW: Oh, I would say that the interest is enormous. Mexico is our second or third largest trading partner. It ranks up there with Canada and China. And so what happens in Mexico really is important to us in terms of how much we export, how much we import, a lot of production of American goods is done in Mexico. It really is very important to us. CAVANAUGH: And I understand that some of the industries that left Mexico and went to China may be returning. So things are looking up; is that right? DAVIDOW: That is correct. The process that we saw five, six, eight years ago in which companies that had established the firms in Mexico were moving to China in search for lower wages are now with changes in the Chinese economy starting to move back to Mexico, because as wages go up in China,, costs such as transportation become more important. And Mexico becomes more advantageous to them than China. CAVANAUGH: What are the biggest issues would you say that are facing Mexico that could spill over into our region? DAVIDOW: Well, the whole economic issue is a major one. And certainly if Mexico's economy grew, that would have an impact on the border area generally in San Diego, specifically. If there's growth in industry and manufacturing in places like Tijuana and Mexicali, that is really important. Obviously, the issue of violence in Mexico, narco trafficking, the immigration issues, these are all things that we live with on a daily basis. So it's important to us to have responsible government in Mexico, and people that we can cooperate with, as we try to work together to confront these issues. CAVANAUGH: Would you summarize for us the candidates? DAVIDOW: Well, there are three principal candidates. The person who is leading is Enrique PeÒa netto, who is the governor of Mexico state, that's the area surrounding Mexico City but not including it. He represents the Pri party, which is the party that effectively ran Mexico for about seven years but has been out of power and has not held the presidency for the last 12 years. CAVANAUGH: I remember it was a big deal when they got voted out. If they get voted back in, that could be a big deal again, right? DAVIDOW: Well, I don't think so, but I think voting them out was a bigger deal than voting them back in. What voting them out meant is that Mexico had really become a serious, legitimate democratic society in which people in power were not always going to remain in power. Voting them back in may be more of a question of what happens in most democracies. Of the guys who are in get kicked out, and the guys who are out eventually get back in. That's not something unique to Mexico. The other two candidates, one is Josefina Vasquez Mota, she represents the party that has been in power in the presidency for the last 12 years, the Pan party, she is seen as the center right candidate, and then an dress Manuel Lopez who represents the left in Mexico. And he's been a candidate before. CAVANAUGH: So just before we go to jill, what was it that the Pan has not done that people feel like perhaps they want to change again? What were they hoping they would do that they did not? DAVIDOW: Well, that's a good question. The Pan would argue that Mexico has made progress, that there's been economic development. Mexico actually came through the economic recession that the whole world is suffering and we're suffering from in better shape than many other countries. But it is true that there's still a very large number of people in Mexico who live in poverty, and the Pan is being criticized for not having done enough there. The continuing violence in Mexico is being blamed on lack of efficiency on the part of the Pan. And just generally speaking, I think people are looking for a change. CAVANAUGH: Jill, you have covered in Texas and here in Tijuana a bit about what people are saying. You also covered PeÒa netto, who who was in TJ recently. What were his issues? REPLOGLE: He didn't even mention security at the two big rallies he in Tijuana. His message was really about the economy. And that is something that a lot of Mexicans are focusing on, perhaps even more than security, particularly in places where security hasn't been as bad. CAVANAUGH: Why do you think he avoided it? REPLOGLE: Well, probably because it's a tough question, and I don't think that any of the candidates have come up with a really good solution to the problem. So he went for the economy and he laid out a ten-point plan, which included things like giving children vouchers so they can ride the school bus for three, helping them out with school supplies, raises wages for people, which is a big issue for people. Wages have not risen in Mexico at all in the last 6-seven years. So focusing on more populist issues that he thinks might be his ticket to getting voters. I spoke with a professor at the University of Texas, he's a rancher, and he represents one of two camps that I found in reporting with people. And his view is that he would like to see the Pri come can back into power because he hopes that this will return things to normal. NEW SPEAKER: The election of the president is a referendum on who best can return Mexico to normal. No matter how corrupt a political party may be, and I'm not saying anyone is corrupt, they want them back because the people believe, and I believe, that with the return of the Pri, the process, the day to day process of Mexico, Mexico being Mexico, will return. CAVANAUGH: Who was that? REPLOGLE: This is Tony Zavaleta, and he's a professor at the University of Texas in Brownsville. And he represents families have two ties on both sides of the border, and he feels what it's like to not go visit his family in Matamoros, which has had terrible incidences of violence in the last few years, and not being able to travel back and forth between those two countries. CAVANAUGH: He raises the issue about corruption. That was one of the reasons that the Pri got voted out in the first place. Do you get a sense whether it would make much difference which party gets back in in terms of corruption in Mexico? DAVIDOW: Well, there are two views of the Pri, and they're sometimes held by the same people. One is that having run the country for several years without being challenged by other parties it Abecame established in its ways and became corrupt. And there are people who argue that the Pri remains based on corruption. The other view is that the Pri was very effective as a government in its own way, and over the 70 years that it was in power it had trained a cadraw of technocrats, people who knew how to get things done. And there is in every country, a desire to see the trains run on time. And that memory of a more efficient government is helping the Pri. But the problem of corruption affects all the political parties in Mexico. And it's hard to say which one would do a better job in rooting it out than another. CAVANAUGH: Jeffrey, how important to San Diego and California businessmen is this whole issue of corruption in Mexico? I know Sempra got into trouble a few years ago, accused in bribing local officials. Would the election perhaps have any effect on how future business deals might be conducted in Mexico? DAVIDOW: Well, it's hard to say whether the election itself will have much impact. But the real problem in Mexico that I think most businessmen observe is that if there is a problem, and this inevitably happens in doing business, contract disputes or other misunderstandings, what a really efficient economy needs is a well-established, honest legal system with courts and judges that can do their job quickly and fairly. And that's really been a major problem in Mexico for years. And it has had some impact on some businesses trying to get their work done in Mexico that they cannot get a fair hearing, not always, but sometimes, in courts of law. CAVANAUGH: Now, you were saying that the economy is improving, but wages are not going up. Why is that? Do you think one or other of the parties might change that more? DAVIDOW: Well, the -- it is true that wages generally have not gone up that much. But there's something else happening in Mexico, which is very interesting. Within that context, the middle class in Mexico is expanding. So Mexico has more and more people who are clearly in the middle class, the kinds of people -- the statistics that show the number of households that have television sets, Washington machines, computers, so forth, is going up. And indeed real poverty in Mexico, the poorest of the poor, people in the lower percentiles, that number is going down as well. But the fact remains that wages for average workers haven't gone up as much as they would like. And I think that's a real problem for the Mexican government. And the next government because while they want to attract investment, which is somewhat drawn to Mexico by lower wages, the people themselves are demanding more. That's going to be a real issue. CAVANAUGH: Neither you nor jill were talking about education as being a major issue. And in this country, we always say if you're going to have a good future, you have to have a good education. Is education even on the agenda of the next president? DAVIDOW: Yes, it's very much on the agenda. But I also have to say it's been on the agenda for the current president, the previous president, and a few more before them. CAVANAUGH: Have they made much difference? DAVIDOW: Not that much. There is a real problem in Mexico that it is widely perceived that the teachers' union is tremendously powerful politically and spends a great deal of time protecting its interests. So education in Mexico is really a fundamental issue. You're right to bring it up. If Mexico is going to be what it wants to be which is a modern middle class economy, it's going to have to do a better job of training its people to be more competitive in the global environment. And that is a fundamental issue that really has not been well-addressed for the last 15-20 years. CAVANAUGH: So jill, you've been talking to people about the election. Are there younger generation folk getting involved on the other side of the border in this election much? REPLOGLE: Definitely. There's been a very large student, and vocal, student protest movement that's developed over the last month and a half or so. And they are very against PeÒa and the Pri. A lot of them support the leftist candidate. But their focus has been not letting the Pri get back into power. We're going to hear from one person I interviewed in Matamoros. NEW SPEAKER: We are friends, we are brothers. Ten years ago, your people used to come to our country on vacation, just to have a good time. And now they can't because of the violence, because your own government alerts people not to come to our country. So they should care. CAVANAUGH: That brings us back to security, doesn't it? REPLOGLE: Yeah, well, his name was Jose angel Martinez, 23 years old, and we were asking him why Americans should care about the elections. And that was one of his answers. But he had some other reasons too. One is immigration, going back to the education and job situation, he and a lot of other students have been focusing on how expensive it is for them to go to school, and they say their only other option is to go to the U.S. or to work for the drug traffickers. And maybe that is fuelling a lot of Mexico's security problem, and that sort of leads into their push for a president that will do more on the social side of things rather than put the military out on the street and go with an enforcement type strategy. CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Well, immigration is a huge issue which we haven't mentioned. And Jeff, there have been significant changes in the flow of immigration into the United States with fewer jobs on this side of the border. How do you see that playing out you should a new administration? How could that affect San Diego? DAVIDOW: Well, there's a big debate going on, whether the real change in the flow that you mentioned, where right now there are probably more Mexicans leaving the United States than entering the United States , and there are many people in Mexico who say this is a result of the growing economy of Mexico, the ability of Mexicans to find jobs in their own country, and this will be the case into the future. And then there are others who say, wait a minute, the real issue is that the jobs have disappeared in the United States, and when they come back, and let's hope they do come back, then the flow of undocumented aliens will increase. And I suspect it's the latter case. But a government that comes in with good policies on some of the things we're talking about, education, another issue that really needs to be reformed in Mexico is the energy sector, and the whole question of collecting taxes. If government acts in a competent way and brings about a number of reforms, then the Mexican economy will grow, and indeed there will be less reason for people to leave Mexico and head north. CAVANAUGH: Good, well, we've come to the end of our time. Thank you so much for shedding a bit of light on why we should care about what happens on Sunday in Mexico. DAVIDOW: Thank you. REPLOGLE: Thanks for having me.

This Sunday, Mexico will elect a new president. It's an election that could make a difference to Mexico's relationship with the United States and those living along its border. San Diego has numerous business links with Mexico, we look at how the election outcome could have an affect here in our region.