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The Issues That Dominate The Campaign In Mexico


And now we go back to Lulu in Mexico City, where I gather Mexicans are feeling pretty happy today.


That's right, Sue. Mexicans are celebrating a World Cup victory yesterday against South Korea. Listen to this.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: There was this joke circulating online after Mexico's last victory over Germany in the World Cup that Mexican cheers caused an earthquake. Now, that wasn't true. But in a week, Mexicans are voting for a new president, and that really could be a seismic shift for this country. At the main square in the historic center of Mexico City - it's called the Zocalo - we spoke to voters after the big game, and this is what they said.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Through interpreter) There is a lot of crime and insecurity. Just as we dreamed for Mexico to be the World Cup champion, we want our country to be free, filled with peace and prosperity. We dream of that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) This election is one of the most important because we are growing and evolving, and we want to finally take off.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So a hugely important election, as you heard there. And to help us understand what's at stake, we're joined now by Carrie Kahn, our correspondent in Mexico. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu. Welcome to Mexico.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, it's great to be back. You have lived and covered this country for a long time now - about six years, right?

KAHN: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I want to know, what stands out to you in this election?

KAHN: It just feels like people now are really voting out of anger. They're just fed up with the current violence and the corruption, both which take place in a climate of utter impunity here. People are just fed up with the main political parties, too, and they want a change. Listen to this voter that I talked to from the central state of Tlaxcala. And I can't tell you how many people have told me the exact same thing she says.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: What she's saying - she wants a change. And it was funny the way she said it because she said, six years ago, she voted for the PRI party and the current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, because he was young, and she liked his youthful energy. But six years later, she says the violence in her small town is out of control. Everything is worse off than before. And she's willing to give the front-runner in the race, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who's 64, her vote. She says, I'm going for the viejito, the older man with experience this time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want you to tell us more about AMLO, as he's nicknamed here. I covered him in 2006 when I was the Mexico correspondent for NPR. And you know, back then, he ran and lost in the election, and he basically held the country hostage for several months contesting the vote. Has he changed?

KAHN: Like you said, this will be his third time running. And it definitely seems like the third time will be a charm for him. Lopez Obrador is leading in the polls. Some have him 20 points above his nearest rival. You know, he's saying the same things I bet you he said exactly when you were covering him 12 years ago, Lulu. If we played a stump speech from then and one from now, they would be the same. He hasn't changed his rhetoric. He's going to fight corruption and what he likes to call the mafia of power here. That is the elites who've enrich themselves for years through corruption while the rest of the country remains poor. That's what he always has said and continues to say. And like the ruling party did back then in 2006 and again in 2012, when he ran the second time, they're trying to paint him as this dangerous leftist, like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who's going to take the country back to failed old economic practices. Check out this PRI party ad that's been running on TV and radio.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: You hear these two middle-class-looking guys at an office talking about what they're going to do if Lopez Obrador wins. He's going to scare away foreign investment and they're going to lose their jobs. And over that scary music, they say, they're scared. It's the same, old tactic. But unlike during Lopez Obrador's past two runs, it's not working. The status quo here is just not acceptable to voters, and they truly want to throw these bums out. And they're willing to take a chance that they weren't very much willing to do two times before, but are now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I spoke to Shannon O'Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations before I traveled here, and she said AMLO may not be Chavez of Venezuela, but he does have some things in common with President Trump. Take a listen.

SHANNON O'NEIL: They both criticize fake news. They see the media as against them. Both of them are less likely to care about the checks and balances in the democratic processes of government, seeing themselves as able to override those things for their admission or for their particular positions. And I think they will actually be good foils for each other in their own domestic political base. So AMLO will be a good foil for Trump because he won't be working with the U.S. as closely on issues of security perhaps or immigration and the like. And Trump will be a good foil for AMLO as he stands up to the bully up to the North.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is your take?

KAHN: It's really interesting that, despite all the vitriol that President Trump has thrown at Mexico in the past year or longer, he's just not that much of an issue in this election, nor surprisingly is the uncertainty over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The predominant issues on voters' minds are corruption and violence. So to test my theory - my informal theory there, I went to an area in the nearby state of Puebla. And this is where there's a lot of international car plants, car parts factories, where the economy is really dominated by the export economy. And I talked to this woman who is in sales. She was at a Dodge-Jeep dealership. You know, her sales are already down as the economy is slugging along, and the peso's slumping. And even for her, the economy just wasn't a big factor in her vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She's saying that she's just not going to worry about what could happen with NAFTA and with Trump. She says what is on everybody's mind - the violence in her neighborhood is just unbearable. And she's switching parties and wants to change, too, and she's willing to give Lopez Obrador a try. Many voters - outside his hardcore base I'm talking about - are grudgingly going to go vote next Sunday for Lopez Obrador, and they just are really hoping for a change.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Well, we'll see a week from today what is exactly going to happen. Thank you, Carrie, so much.

KAHN: Oh, thanks. You're welcome.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that's the view from voters in Mexico, but this election is also one to watch for Americans because President Trump has made Mexico and issues like trade and immigration central to his presidency, and how the next Mexican president deals with President Trump and those pressures could have a real impact on the United States. And we'll be hearing more on that later in the show. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.