Friday, June 1, 2012

Front-Runner Slips in Mexico Presidential Race

Left-leaning candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has gained support while front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto has seen his numbers fall, according to the latest poll on Mexico’s presidential race.

The latest poll, published by Reforma, shows Lopez with 34 percent support, Peña on 38 percent, and Josefina Vazquez Mota on 23, reports the Wall Street Journal. Some previous polls had given Peña a lead of 20 points, while earlier this year it looked like Vazquez was the real challenger to his dominance. In March, polls showed her catching up with Peña, with the PRI candidate on 36 percent, Vazquez on 29, and Lopez lagging behind on 17.

The Associated Press notes that, a month ago, Peña had 32 percent to Lopez’s 21 percent.

It now seems for the first time that Lopez, candidate of a coalition of left-leaning parties, including the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), could be in with a chance in the July 1 vote. His image remains tarnished, however, by his refusal to accept defeat in the last presidential election six years ago. He came a close second to Felipe Calderon, which he said was the result of Calderon's PAN party, which held the presidency, using fraud. He set up a shadow government which continued to meet three years after the vote, wore a presidential sash, and called on Mexico to recognize him as the legitimate leader, tactics which did not go down well with the public.

The WSJ says that “The surge by the leftist is likely to cause jitters among Mexico's business elites and foreign investors,” noting that Lopez intends to maintain the government monopoly on oil production, and mandate lower gas prices. The AP reports, however, that Lopez has “sought this time to soften his image, appeal to the middle class and businessmen.”

The two other candidates have both suffered image problems during the campaign, with the PRI party's Peña hit by revelations that he had children with another woman during his marriage to his late wife, and by his seeming inability to name his favorite books. The campaign of the PAN's Vazquez, meanwhile, has made a series of organizational slip ups, including failing to get enough people to fill the stadium where she announced her candidacy. She has also lost credibility for bloopers including saying she would “strengthen money laundering,” and for having to stop a speech because she felt dizzy.

Both Vazquez and Peña are struggling to get away from the negative associations of their respective parties. Vazquez must defend the legacy of current President Calderon, who has presided over a massive surge in murder rates sparked by his aggressive tactics towards the drug cartels. Peña has the opposite problem, facing down massive student protests over accusations that his PRI party is too tolerant to organized crime. The PRI held power in Mexico for seven decades until 2000, and many Mexicans are suspicious that it has not fully moved on from its corrupt and repressive past.

The WSJ notes that Lopez has “benefited from the dynamics of the campaign, in which both he and Ms. Vazquez Mota have attacked the front-runner as an empty suit and a return to the past.

News Briefs

  • Farmers in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province are planning to protest a hike in rural property tax, reports the WSJ. The area’s biggest farming group has called a strike on selling non-perishable goods and protest on the streets. The move was pushed through by Governor Daniel Scioli, who Reuters says is seen by some as a market-friendly successor to President Cristina Kirchner. In 2008, farmers strikes forced the government to withdraw higher grain export taxes, but this time the government is standing firm, says the WSJ, as the country’s economic policies, such as the take-over of YPF, have driven up borrowing costs, making it necessary to raise more money at home. In Buenos Aires, anti-government protests known as the “cacerolazo,” where citizens bang pots and honk car horns, kicked off on Thursday night, reports the AP. People angered by high inflation and tight currency controls took to the streets in what the news agency said was a highly symbolic protest.
  • The NYT has a piece on the US’s expanding anti-drug operations in Central America, which have met with some success -- "For the first time in a decade, air shipments are being intercepted immediately upon landing,” according to State Department anti-drug official William Brownfield. It points out that some governments in the region think the US is too focused on shipment seizures and not enough on stopping the violence related to the trade.
  • After being released on Wednesday by the FARC rebel group, who held him in the jungle for a month, French journalist Romeo Langlois has arrived in Paris and been reunited with his family, reports the AP. He told media that the rebels had given him a letter to hand to new President Francois Hollande “to ask France to continue to play its role as a friend of Colombia to help in trying to negotiate.”
  • The NYT Latitude blog has a report on “Venezuela’s top party prison” from the Caracas Chronicles’ Francisco Toro. It tells the story of a weekend-long mothers’ day party with 5,000 guests, costing $93,000, held in a disco within a jail outside Caracas. Toro says that the country’s authorities have given up trying to control the interior of prisons, limiting themselves to guarding the perimeter and letting “pranes” or gang bosses run things within the walls. In Tocoron, site of the massive mothers’ day party, a boss known as “The Warrior Child” taxes inmates $12-$25 a week, for “services like special foods or simply not being killed in their sleep. Booze, mobile phones, drugs, laptops and guns cost extra.”
  • Venezuela’s government says that illicit drug flights in the country’s airspace have been cut 50 percent since the beginning of the year, reports the AP. Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said that the authorities have been bombing clandestine landing strips, destroying 36 so far, though it was not clear what period this covered.
  • The Associated Press has details of the accusations against new Honduran police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla, known as “El Tigre,” citing a 10-year-old police report which details allegations that he was part of a death squad. It describes a witness account of Bonilla sending a team of police to find a suspected gang leader, and then telling them “You’ve got him. Do what you have to do.” The suspect was later found dead in a crashed car. Top human rights official Ramon Custodio told the AP that he backed Bonilla’s appointment. Then-police commissioner Maria Luisa Borjas, who headed the investigation against Bonilla in 2002, told the AP how her work was hampered by the government, and that the security minister “took away her investigators, then gasoline for her cars, then the cars.”
  • Bolivia’s government has dismissed the claims of opposition Senator Roger Pinto, who is claiming asylum in Brazil on grounds of political persecution, saying that this is part of a move to discredit the government ahead of an annual meeting of foreign minister to be held in Cochabamba, reports the AP. Pinto claims that he has been threatened because he has evidence of government links to drug trafficking.
  • Speaking in Washington this week, Mexico’s Ambassador to the US Arturo Sarukhan said that his government had not been informed about the anti-weapon trafficking scheme “Fast and Furious,” reports the LA Times. Under the operation, US agents allowed “straw buyers” to purchase guns they suspected were headed to Mexican cartels, in order to try to track cartel bosses. Sarukhan said the operation showed an “outrageous lack of understanding” of the issue, and revealed that his government is holding an investigation into it.
  • Plaza Publica reports on the progress of a bill on rural development, backed by campesino movements. Some 2,000 rural dwellers carried out a march to Guatemala City in March to back the bill, and congresspeople and the president signed a letter promising to support it, but some representatives are now preventing it being brought to a vote in Congress, saying it may be unconstitutional. The head of farmers’ movement CUC told the site that the legislators are "subject to powers" that want to keep rural people in poverty in order to maintain control over the means of production.
  • The WSJ reports on the Brazilian government’s efforts to revitalize its economy, cutting interest rates on Wednesday to a historic low, in an effort to weaken the real and help exporters.
  • The LA Times reports on forced displacement in Sinaloa, west Mexico, where it says at least 1,500 families have had to flee in the last month, amid fighting between the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel. Last year, according to a study, at least 160,000 people were displaced across the country.
  • In New York, Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela told an audience at a panel onLGBT issues that Cuba’s electoral system was open and fair, reports the Miami Herald. The gay rights campaigner also said that it would be hypocrisy for the Cuban government, headed by her father, to apologize for its past persecution of gay people.

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