By Raoul Lowery Contreras
On a sunny day in early 2007 in Tijuana, Mexico, I stood on world-famous Revolution Avenue among countless stores selling merchandise that vendors have sold to millions of Americans over the years, smoking a Cuban cigar that was illegal two miles north in the United States.
Suddenly, a mass police presence descended on the avenue, blocking intersections with squad cars and motorcycles.
Rumbling from east of downtown Tijuana came a Mexican Army convoy led by U.S.-made Humvees, followed by two-and-a-half-ton Army trucks carrying a regiment of Mexican soldiers in desert camouflage uniforms carrying American-made M-16 assault rifles.
They had been ordered into Tijuana by newly-elected President Felipe Calderón to disarm and replace the notoriously corrupt Tijuana police force, which had engaged in a noontime gunfight on the main street with state judicial police protecting a rival drug cartel.
That cartel was brazenly attempting to poach Tijuana from the then-infamous Felix Arellano drug cartel that supplied illegal drugs to California, Las Vegas and the west coast.
Since that day, more than 80,000 people have died in the Mexican war on drugs. That is more than all the Americans killed in 12 years of fighting in southeast Asia. Like the ineffective U.S. war in Vietnam, the Mexican government has little to show for its campaign against the drug cartels.
It has been unable to end the massive corruption fueled by drug cartels. Why? Because they have voluminous cash resources derived from the $19 billion to $29 billion that Americans spend on cartel-produced and distributed drugs.
The massive body count has deeply affected Mexican politics and is part of the coming political campaign that will elect a new president and Congress (500 deputies, 128 senators) and more than 2,800 local and state officials on July 1.
National crime and corruption join petroleum, the economy and poverty as issues.
As usual, the main Mexican presidential candidates do not look like the nearly 90% of Mexicans who are either full-blooded Indian (about 28%) or the mixed Mestizo (more than 60%); they look like the Spaniards who arrived in Mexico 499 years ago.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known by his initials AMLO), leftist former mayor of Mexico City, is the candidate of the Morena party he founded so that he could run for president again.
He leans to authoritarianism, offers the possibility of full amnesty for drug cartel members and supports creating a federal public security department and a national guard that, reports the Los Angeles Times, “incorporat(es) both police and military forces.”
But, AMLO says, “There will be no torture in our country.” He has also criticized President Donald Trump’s demand to build an “unnecessary” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Ricardo Anaya is the candidate of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which broke the 70-year-long one-party dictatorship of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000 when Vicente Fox won the presidency, which Felipe Calderón repeated in 2006.
Actually, Anaya is a coalition candidate of the PAN and the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) that twice nominated AMLO for president in 2006 and 2012.
Anaya is a free-enterpriser campaigning on economics and economic growth that is projected to make Mexico the fifth largest economy in the world in 2050.
“To combat poverty,” the Los Angeles Times reports, Anaya says he will “grow the economy by boosting competition and investment, and progressively increasing the minimum wage.”
“The best social policy is economic policy, and well-paid jobs,” he said. “At the right time I will say personally to the president of the United States, and I will say it in his language so there will be absolutely no confusion . . . Mexico will not pay a single cent for that wall.”
Interesting to Mexophiles is the fact that José Antonio Meade is the first non-party member presidential candidate for the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party in its 90-year history.
“Needs are always personal,” Meade said to his supporters. “Government support will be as well . . . . There is no effort that can be spared, nor time to lose.”
Of violence and graft, he adds: “I have been with those who face the challenge of security every day. They ask us to take away the weapons, the money and the assets from the criminals and the corrupt, and that is exactly what we will do.”
Looking ahead, and recalling that Obrador lost the presidency in 2006 by less than 1% of the vote to Calderón, another interesting facet is that nearly 500,000 properly-credentialed Mexican nationals living in the U.S. are eligible to vote by absentee ballot this year.
In 2006 and 2012, Mexicans in the U.S. had to return physically to Mexico to vote at border voting stations. This time, they can do it by mail.
Los Angeles, of course, has the largest number of eligible Mexican absentee voters; Dallas is second, followed by Houston, Chicago and New York City.
Caramba! Absentee votes from Mexicans living in the U.S. could decide the Mexican presidency. Some of those voters, by the nature of their dual citizenship, may actually be American citizens.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade (Floricanto Press 2016) and The Armenian Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy (Berkeley Press 2017). He formerly wrote for the New American News Service of the New York Times.
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