A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.
By David Gaddis Smith
In 2006, populist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador complained that the 2006 election was stolen from him by the National Action Party.
This year, he may lose the election again in part because his ideas appear to have been stolen by Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Enrique Peña Nieto (right), who has a double-digit lead over López Obrador in most polls, although the PRIistas has been slowly losing ground to the Democratic Revolution Party politician.
Peña Nieto addressed a huge crowd on the grounds of the Playas de Tijuana bullring on Sunday and made 10 commitments right out of López Obrador's playbook. All, like most of López Obrador's promises, essentially offered voters something for nothing.
Peña Nieto's 21-minute speech was delivered from behind a sign that said "Mexico is going to change." He told those in attendance, most of them bused in from all over the state, "We are 28 days away from winning the presidency of the republic."
While the former Mexico state governor said that the country would move forward under his presidency with "stability and responsibility," he said nary a word about the nation's security issues. His speech in Playas and an earlier one to Baja California women at the old jai-alai fronton downtown now known as El Foro were met by student protesters who fear that Mexico will take a gigantic step backward if the party that held the presidency from 1929-2000 returns to power. María Elvia de Hank, the wife of former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon and an at-large candidate for Congress for the PRI, was among the women attending the campaign event downtown. Jorge Hank Rhon did not attend either event (PDF).
Peña Nieto, 45, was accompanied by his TV actress wife, Angélica Rivera. Rivera, perhaps showing the common touch, took pictures of the crowd just as supporters were taking photos of her. Both she and Peña Nieto were mobbed by an adoring crowd as they ran a gauntlet of supporters through a passageway created between two sets of metal railings on their way to the stage. Although those in attendance had to enter through metal detectors, Peña Nieto's climbing up the railing and embracing of his backers in the crowd no doubt caused consternation in his security team in the city where PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was assassinated in 1994.
New movie on Colosio assassination may hurt Peña Nieto.
López Obrador, when mayor of Mexico City from 2000-2005, instituted a pension system for the elderly and has promised to extend it nationwide. He has made many other promises, pledging to pay for them through curtailing corruption in Mexico, even though experts say such savings would not come close to covering the costs. Story on López Obrador's promises to Tijuana residents on May 1.
On Sunday, Peña Nieto promised pensions to Mexicans over 65. He also made many other similar promises to those of López Obrador, although many of them were in more general terms. For example, López Obrador has promised to create 700,000 jobs a year, a seeming impossibility; Peña Nieto did not name a figure.
Except when he spoke about reducing electricity costs, Peña Nieto did not mention where the money to pay for his promises would come from.
Still, he has blunted the major populist promises of López Obrador, and polls show Peña Nieto is even more trusted to deal with the issue of poverty than the Democratic Revolution Party candidate. Corruption and social inequality are ranked as two of the top issues for Mexicans, but those issues, at least until recently, have not been giving the leftist politician much traction. A recent solicitation of $6 million by López Obrador supporters may damage his anti-corruption bona fides.
Update, June 7: López Obrador, speaking on the Televisa TV program "Tercer Grado," says he is proud of his providing pensions and other social services while mayor of Mexico City and said other candidates "copy me, and copy me badly."
Nearly half of Peña Nieto's speech Sunday was devoted to outlining 10 overall commitments (seven minutes) and five commitments specifically directed to Baja California (three minutes). He later spent three minutes signing the commitments in front of a notary public. When governor of Mexico state, Peña Nieto made scores of other commitments he said he fulfilled, although National Action Party ads rebutting many of his claims have made headway with some voters.
Although Peña Nieto had a few big applause lines, he had no real stirring turns of phrase. His stump speech perhaps could simply be called workmanlike.
Enrique Peña Nieto's 10 general commitments:
• There will be more jobs and Mexicans will earn more for their work. "Giving value to your work is giving value to Mexico." This received major applause.
• Price increases on basic foodstuffs will be stopped.
• Electricity prices will be lowered. Peña Nieto said energy reform will allow Mexico to produce electricity more cheaply. Mexico's electricity prices are above average and need to be brought down to make the country more competitive, but lowering them will be easier said than done. From his comments, Peña Nieto did not seem to not realize that it is Mexicali that has high temperatures and high air-conditioning bills, not Tijuana.
• Peña Nieto said that under his "complete backpack" program, there will be free school supplies for public elementary and middle school students.
• Transportation costs for high school and university students who have to travel far will be subsidized.
• There will be medicine vouchers in the IMSS, Issste y Popular Insurance health systems.
• Women who head families will have life insurance to protect their children in case the mothers die.
• Adults over 65 will receive a pension.
• The antipoverty program Oportunidades and the Popular Insurance programs will continue and will grow. He noted that Oportunidades is the outgrowth of a program created 15 years ago during PRI President Ernesto Zedillo's term.
• People who want to improve or add on to their homes will receive aid.
Peña Nieto's five commitments for Baja California:
• To build an articulated transportation system for Tijuana for "better and faster transportation" for the growing city's families. The city has postponed the planned system due to lack of funds.
• Pave 100 kilometers of roads in Tijuana, Tecate and Playas de Rosarito.
• Build and equip a general hospital for Mexicali.
• Build three high schools in Tijuana and other Baja California cities. "I am going to make sure that high school education is available for all youths.... One of three youths are unable to continue to high school. That is why in my government, there will be high schools for all of the youths of Mexico," Peña Nieto said. Carlos Bustamante, the PRI mayor of Tijuana, promised during his campaign that two high schools would be built in the city during his three-year term, which ends toward the end of next year. One high school has been opened in portable buildings.
• Build infrastructure in Ensenada to guarantee an improved water supply; better roads in the port city.
In left photo, women wait behind metal railing for Peña Nieto to pass by. In center photo, a sea of red waits for the event to begin. In right photo, a caricature of Peña Nieto paired with a map of Mexico was on display at the rally.
In left photo, one of a huge number of buses carrying Peña Nieto supporters heads west along Avenida Internacional past the U.S. border fence on the right and a Peña Nieto billboard promising more support for high schools on the left. In center photo, Peña Nieto supporters gesture inside a bus. PRI organizers claimed that tens of thousands were in attendance at the bullring grounds. In right photo, a banner supporting Tijuana congressional candidate Chris López hangs from the bullring. Education has been a major issue for López, who delivered the only other speech besides Peña Nieto's. The PRI's other state candidates for the federal Congress also were in attendance, as were the state's PRI mayors.
In left photo, students protest Peña Nieto visit. In center photo, Autonomous University of Baja California student Cinthia Sandoval holds a sign saying, "The sandwich doesn't last six years." Most of those bused in were given food, drink and PRI T-shirts; many also received caps. One woman at the bullring rally said she was bused in from Mexicali to see Peña Nieto but planned to vote for the National Action Party's Vázquez Mota. In right photo, doctor-in-training José Antonio Díaz wore a gas mask as a protest against the noxious gases emitted by the inefficient buses carrying Peña Nieto supporters, and also, he said, because he thought the PRIistas stink.
Televisa showed Peña Nieto's convoy surrounded by shouting, placard-waving protesters when he arrived at the bullring; columnist Odilón García wondered about the efficacy of measures taken to protect the candidate, noting that the protesters were able to place "#132" stickers on the convoy's vehicles. After the speech, students protested along the main roadway from Playas to Tijuana, but said Peña Nieto avoided them, and a gigantic traffic jam, by heading back into the Tijuana center via another route past the Universidad Iberoamericana. It is not known what thoughts may have hit Peña Nieto as he drove past the Tijuana campus of the Ibero: his May 11 visit to the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City has spawned a protest movement where demonstrators across the country now call themselves student #132; there were 131 students reported to be in attendance at the Ibero on May 11, when Peña Nieto was greeted with catcalls and boos. Many students on Sunday wore signs saying, "Yo soy #132" ( "I am #132"). The students, like many intellectuals, say Peña Nieto is the creation of the powerful Televisa TV network. In part as a result of the protests, Peña Nieto's lead among young people has been trimmed, and university-educated Mexicans now say they support López Obrador over Peña Nieto (PDF).
Update, June 6: Columnist Eduardo Ruiz-Healy (PDF) writes that none of the major candidates has realistically revealed where the money to pay for their costly campaign promises will come from.
After the rally, some Peña Nieto supporters walked on the beach along the border fence that extends into the sea at Playas de Tijuana.
|This week's El Universal/Buendía
& Laredo poll (PDF)