September 6, 2006
Mexico's new president is a free-trade soul mate of President Bush. While the White House officials welcome the victory of Felipe Calderon today, they may regret it tomorrow.
After two months in limbo and a partial vote recount, Calderon, of the National Action Party (PAN), was declared the winner in a razor-close tally over the populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Lopez Obrador and his supporters, however, believe the election was won with fraud.
The vote results revealed a troubling fault line between Mexico's northern and southern regions.
Voters in the more affluent and industrialized northern states of Mexico voted for Calderon, an advocate of free trade, foreign investment and low-inflation policies.
Voters in the southern, poor and agricultural regions of Mexico teamed up with urban residents of Mexico City to vote for Lopez Obrador.
Mexico's rural poverty has pushed millions of individuals and families north in search of work. There are an estimated 11 million Mexicans without legal status in the United States.
In southern Mexico, where the majority of the country's 50 million poor live, farmers and farm workers have been devastated by free-trade policies that have flooded local markets with cheap U.S. corn and beans, subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.
Since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, Mexico has lost an estimated 2 million agricultural jobs, fueling immigration to the United States.
When Calderon takes office in December, he will be faced with governing an increasingly unequal and divided Mexico. But if he is going to respond to the deep distress facing the majority of the population, he must initiate a bold program to create new opportunities for employment and agriculture.
And he'll need some real help from Uncle Sam.
Rather than sermons about more free trade, the Bush administration should work together with our neighbors to the south to develop new fair trade and resource-sharing strategies aimed at helping Mexicans prosper at home.
Otherwise, no wall will be tall enough to keep the desperate and poor out.
Nadia Martinez is co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network (SEEN), a project of the Institute for Policy Studies. Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and part-time resident of Oaxaca, Mexico. They can be reached at email@example.com.