Mexican heroes, not Chavez or Lula, inspire leftist
By Alistair Bell Mon Feb 27, 2:43 PM ET
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The man favored to win Mexico's presidential
election is often compared to the new breed of Latin American left-wing
leaders but he prefers to delve deep into Mexican history to find his role
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist front-runner for the July
election, denies he is a populist in the mold of Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez and he rejects similarities to Bolivia's new leader, Evo Morales, or
Brazil's more moderate president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Instead, Lopez Obrador is a keen admirer of Benito Juarez, a poor Zapotec
Indian who became Mexico's first indigenous president and a modernizer in
the mid-19th century.
At campaign rallies, amateur history buff Lopez Obrador lauds Mexico's
independence heroes in the fight against Spain, and famous revolutionaries
like Emiliano Zapata and Francisco "Pancho" Villa.
But he reserves most praise for the liberal Juarez, offering a glimpse into
the kind of president he might try to be if he wins the July 2 vote.
"We are inspired by Benito Juarez's sobriety, austerity and the firmness of
his republican principles," Lopez Obrador told a rally of up to 100,000
people in Mexico City on Sunday.
Lopez Obrador, the capital's former mayor, has topped opinion polls for the
last three years, although his lead has faded a bit since campaigning began
Wall Street investors and Washington policy-makers are anxious to know
where he fits into Latin America's recent swing to the left. They worry
Lopez Obrador will wreck Mexico's financial stability by spending heavily
to create jobs, and that he might also take a firm anti-U.S. stance.
Lopez Obrador says he would take Juarez, who expanded civil rights and
curbed Roman Catholic Church powers, as an example.
Juarez, a steel-willed man whose face adorns Mexico's 20-peso note, is a
national icon for defeating French invaders, drawing up a federalist
constitution and bringing a country torn by political and religious chaos
under the rule of law.
Lopez Obrador sees in himself a similar willingness to shake up Mexico,
blighted by drug gang violence, mass emigration to the United States and
grinding poverty, said left-wing historian Lorenzo Meyer.
"What is it that Andres Manuel sees in Juarez? He sees a political leader
with a task that is almost impossible," said Meyer.
Lopez Obrador's reluctance to identify himself with other modern leftists
might be an effort not to antagonize next-door neighbor the United States,
Mexico's key trading partner.
"In their own ways, Lula, Chavez and Kirchner have conflicts with the
United States," said Meyer. "Anything Lopez Obrador might say on foreign
policy could turn into a problem for him."
But aides say Lopez Obrador, a widower and former Indian rights activist,
is driven by a need to leave his own mark on history, in his case by
raising millions of Mexicans out of poverty and fighting corruption.
"It is not just about putting the presidential sash on and sitting in the
presidential seat," Lopez Obrador said on Sunday. "It's about a real
renovation, a true purification of public life."
Lopez Obrador will make history of his own if he wins the election. No
candidate from a left-wing party has ever become president in Mexico.
Lopez Obrador called former President Lazaro Cardenas the best Mexican
president of last century on Sunday. Cardenas is remembered for
nationalizing the oil industry in 1938 and the reference underlined Lopez
Obrador's commitment to keep private investment away from state oil
Lopez Obrador speaks little about foreign policy and other regional
leaders, which is no loss for some Mexicans.
"We don't know much about them," said florist Estela Ramos, a Lopez Obrador
backer. "We have enough problems in Mexico."
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