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Mexican conservative could buck trend
Reuters ^ | 07/01/06 | Alistair Scrutton

Posted on 07/01/2006 12:03:36 PM PDT by Heartofsong83

Mexican conservative could buck trend By Alistair Scrutton 1 hour, 17 minutes ago

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - For all the talk of the rise of Latin America's left, Mexican presidential hopeful Felipe Calderon could show on Sunday that, while unfashionable, U.S.-style conservatives can still win hearts and minds.

Years of stuttering market reforms under outgoing President Vicente Fox from free trade to a credit card bonanza have taken root among many voters who fear leftists so popular in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia could bring ruin.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a slight favorite in Sunday's elections but polls are so close that a win for the Harvard-educated Calderon, promising more foreign investment and pro-business reforms, is a real possibility.

The core of Calderon's support lies with an emerging middle class in Mexico enjoying years of relative financial stability following the currency devaluations and debt crises that plagued the country in the 1980s and 1990s.

Under Fox, who ended 71 years of Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, rule six years ago, many Mexicans have enjoyed greater access to consumer credit despite tepid growth. The number of credit cards in Mexico has nearly tripled during his term and a stable peso has spawned more savings accounts and mortgages.

The NAFTA free trade deal has sparked an explosion in U.S. goods. Consumers flock to Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Shopping malls that would not be out of place in U.S. suburbia litter many wealthier Mexican cities near the U.S. border.

Many middle-class Mexicans now have something to lose.

"(With Calderon) we'll have stability," said 36-year-old aerobics teacher Maripi Ablanedo Vargas, who bought a house with a mortgage thanks to lower interest rates.

"(Lopez Obrador) only speaks about raising wages, but where's the money going to come from? He'll increase debts, everything will rise, inflation," Vargas added.


For Vargas, these benefits under Fox are in danger from Lopez Obrador's populist anti-poverty crusade, which she fears will mean a return to wasteful high spending.

Calderon is hoping to follow the electoral successes of pro-U.S. conservatives like Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

But many other Latin Americans are rebelling against decades of market reforms and millions of poor Mexicans distrust conservatives. They feel governments like Fox's benefit the rich and do little to create jobs.

Much of Calderon's support comes from northern Mexico, where factories catering to U.S. consumers have led to rising wages, auto and housing booms. Lopez Obrador's support is strongest in southern states, where poverty is endemic.

Calderon, a stiffish 43-year-old lawyer, was for months an underdog in the race. His message of continuity from Fox was uninspiring for many Mexicans who packed rallies to hear the more charismatic Lopez Obrador promise better pensions and health care.

But Calderon gathered support midway through the campaign by playing on fears of radicalism, portraying Lopez Obrador as "danger for Mexico."

"Calderon has the more coherent economic policies. He is not going to make us suffer as small businessmen," said cantina owner Mundo Tavera, a lifelong PRI supporter.

"With Lopez Obrador, all I can think about is shielding myself from devaluations."

While Calderon's enemies paint him as elitist, he has tried to swing independent voters by selling himself as the image of modernity against the out-of-date economic nationalism of his rival.

"Calderon represents the consolidation of Mexico's modernization project. This is a project that has been taking root in Mexico," said Carlos Sirvent, a political science professor at Mexico's UNAM university.

"People talk about a leftist backlash in Latin America but it's not so simple. Much of the impact of free trade is here to stay, no matter who wins," he added.

(Additional reporting by Lorraine Orlandi and Chris Aspin)

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Government; Mexico; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: borderlist; calderon; conservative; elections; latinamerica; mexicanelection; mexico
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To: DJ Taylor

Calderon is hardly a "conservative" the way we think of conservatives.

21 posted on 07/01/2006 2:37:42 PM PDT by monkeywrench (Deut. 27:17 Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor's landmark)
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To: coconutt2000

Considering that Calderon promises a continuity of Fox's government, and considering Fox's policy was/is to send his social problems north, my guess would be that Calderon would be the worst in the illegal immigration regard.

22 posted on 07/01/2006 2:37:55 PM PDT by Sometimes A River (Miami Heat 2006 World Champions!)
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To: monkeywrench
"Calderon is hardly a "conservative" the way we think of conservatives."

Maybe so, but Lopez Obrador is a Communist in just the way we think of Communists.

23 posted on 07/01/2006 3:10:41 PM PDT by DJ Taylor (Once again our country is at war, and once again the Democrats have sided with our enemy.)
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To: Heartofsong83

One has to wonder why we back democratic reform in foreign lands, and support candidates that would help America... but when it comes to Mexico, we let the corrupt leftists have it without any challenge?

24 posted on 07/01/2006 3:45:55 PM PDT by Paloma_55 (I may be a hateful bigot, but I still love you)
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To: Heartofsong83
could show on Sunday that, while unfashionable, U.S.-style conservatives can still win hearts and minds.

So, according to Reuters, we're "unfashionable."

25 posted on 07/01/2006 3:58:30 PM PDT by Dog Gone
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