A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.
By David Gaddis Smith
Who won the second presidential debate Sunday night? While the media was full of commentators and citizens saying whom they thought had won, columnist Eduardo Ruiz-Healy might have summed it best when he said that no one had. Ruiz-Healy's column (PDF).
This could help front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto the most. While he showed signs of nervousness, he came off well enough and was able to parry off attacks. While analysts wondered why populist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador did not go on the attack, it could be that he is confident that he will win the election and sought, like Peña Nieto, to be relatively above the fray. One post-debate poll by María de las Heras put López Obrador as the dabate winner; another, by Reforma, said the National Action Party's Josefina Vázquez Mota won.
The debate was worthwhile for several reasons, one of which was that afterward, Televisa aired a post-debate debate among the campaign coordinators of the four Mexican candidates. How often does one get to see campaign strategists gather together during a campaign?
Vázquez Mota comes out swinging, desperately
Vázquez Mota, who had fallen to third place since the first debate, came out swinging against her three rivals, sometimes with attacks that defied credulity, just like her ad last week that indicated that López Obrador supports the use of arms to change the government. She tried to tie López Obrador to the PRI-led government's 1968 massacre of students at the Tlaltelolco plaza by noting that she understood that he had become a PRI activist three years later; he pointed out that he was in his first year of high school in Tabasco 1971.
Neither López Obrador nor Peña Nieto went on the attack, other than to defend themselves. After Peña Nieto said he would support reforms to make electricity cheaper and also would support other reforms, Vázquez Mota noted that Peña Nieto had the Mexico state congressional delegation vote against energy and political reforms. Peña Nieto tried to deflect her attack by saying that if she, as the leader of the PAN delegation in the Chamber of Deputies, had done a better job and not been absent so much, more legislation might have been passed. He also said the PRI backed 90 initiatives sent to Congress by President Felipe Calderón.
Peña Nieto emphasizes issues of fighting corruption, social inequality
Peña Nieto continued to emphasize the issues of fighting corruption and social inequality, which traditionally have been López Obrador's strength. Peña Nieto repeated many of the promises he made in Tijuana the Sunday before, where he pledged that the government would pay for students' school supplies, provide life insurance for working mothers, cut electricity costs, expand the Oportunidades antipoverty program, create more and better-paying jobs, cut food prices, provide medication vouchers, expand educational and health care offerings. He also said he would take action to get a congress that is functional, greater citizen participation and and more transparent, efficient government. He said he would create an anticorruption commission. The citizen participation proposal is a way for Peña Nieto to try to mitigate the damage that a student movement has been causing him; he has been saying that the student movement, while vehemently opposed to his candidacy, enriches democracy. He called his visit to the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City where the student movement was born "an awakening of young people and their involvement in this democratic process." He also said he wanted it set up so that any citizen could start the process for the creation of a law, and favored independent candidacies.
López Obrador matches Peña Nieto's promises, and uses fuzzy math
López Obrador also promised his government would pay for students' school supplies, would provide more grants to students and would expand education coverage and would also provide aids to private schools. He said the nation's principal problem was a lack of jobs and its second most-important problem the violence it is undergoing, which he attributed to the lack of jobs. The former Mexico City mayor said there would be 6% economic growth per year under his administration. López Obrador often provided simplistic answers to complicated questions and may have been hurt in some voters' minds because he does not seem have a realistic grasp of government finances. He said that by lowering or ending government salaries for top employees, eliminating corruption, and ending fiscal privileges, he would have 800 billion pesos ($57 billion) more to work with to foster the progress of the nation. Other candidates noted that his figures were a fantasy; even President Calderón tweeted (PDF) that the most money that could be saved by eliminating all top officials would be 2 billion pesos ($143 million), not the 300 billion pesos ($21 billion) López Obrador cited. Vázquez Mota said that if everyone in the government were fired, the savings would only arrive at 280 billion pesos. "Your math does not add up, PRD candidate," she said, later adding, "You either lie, or are going to put us in debt." López Obrador also spoke of building a bullet train system, an expensive proposition in any country. He said Mexico would solve the problem of excess water in the southeast and the lack of water in the center and north of the country. López Obrador, who will be in Mexicali on Tuesday, showed similar fuzzy math during his May 1 appearance in Tijuana. Vázquez Mota plans to hold a campaign rally in Tijuana on June 21.
Update, June 12: In Mexicali on Tuesday, López Obrador promises to build a bullet train from Baja California to Mexico City. Story, Frontera.
How will promises be met? (Quién sabe)
Neither Peña Nieto, nor López Obrador nor Vázquez Mota said how they would pay for, or how they would realistically fund, the expanded government services they are propounding. Both Peña Nieto and Vázquez Mota criticized the mediocre economic growth under the PAN; López Obrador blamed the nation's overall economic woes on the neoliberalism that began under the PRI in the 1980s. Vázquez Mota noted that the nation's overall finances are in order and said debt run up in PRI- and PRD-run states could be sending residents of those states to the poorhouse, and feared that López Obrador could do the same to the national treasury. She also said Transparencia Mexicana's index of corruption and good government gave López Obrador's 2005 Mexico City administration and Peña Nieto's 2010 Mexico state administration bad marks as the entities with the most corruption.
Mexico's drug war was hardly touched on; López Obrador did say there would not be military cooperation with U.S. under his administration.
Update, June 12: New York Times writes about U.S. preparing for shift in drug war after presidential election. Story in Frontera (PDF).
Vázquez Mota teases rivals
Early in the debate, Vázquez Mota hypothesized about her opponents being female candidates, and said the PRI candidate would have her hair done nicely, would like TV and keep bad company; the PANista said the the New Alliance candidate would be a capable woman who would always ask her mother's (teachers union leader Elba Esther Gordillo) permission; Vázquez Mota said the leftist candidate would be happy if she won at dominoes but say her opponents were traitors or a victim of a conspiracy if she lost. López Obrador cried foul after he lost the 2006 election and last week indicated he would celebrate if he won the election but might contest the results if he loses.
Photo: Vázquez Mota criticizes López Obrador during the debate.
Vázquez Mota attacks Peña Nieto
Vázquez Mota said Peña Nieto had hidden in the bathroom after his way was blocked by shouting students after his speech at the Iberoamericana; Peña Nieto responded this nowhere close to the truth. Indeed, a video posted on YouTube shows an agitated-looking Peña Nieto and his team standing near, but not in, a bathroom while evaluating their options for running the gauntlet of student protesters and getting off the campus. The YouTube video. She also sought to link him to scandal-plagued former Mexico state governor Arturo Montiel by pointing out that Peña Nieto had dedicated his thesis to Montiel. Peña Nieto said the thesis, written 20 years before well before Montiel's scandal, "was dedicated in the first place to his mother and father, may he rest in peace, to my siblings, and to the man who at that point was my boss and gave me the opportunity to work and study when I was doing my thesis and get my degree."
López Obrador on U.S.-Mexican relations
López Obrador said his government would maintain good relations with the United States, but would not have military cooperation with the U.S. and would hope to establish a different relationship involving immigration. He said he admired President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, saying he created 4 million jobs in three months, mostly for young people, during the U.S. Depression in the 1930s. While millions of public-works jobs were created under Roosevelt, with different people coursing through the jobs, the number of people put to work during Roosevelt's first three months was closer to 300,000.
All the candidates said they did not think women should be prosecuted for having an abortion; Vázquez Mota did say that she did not favor abortion, however.
Maligning each other's parties
Which party is aligned with which? López Obrador has been lumping both the PRI and PAN together, calling them the PRI-AN. Vázquez Mota pointed out that López Obrador started out in the PRI and she lumped the PRI and PRD together. She also showed a photo of López Obrador at a rally with former top PRI leader Manuel Bartlett; Bartlett was a key player in the fraud-filled 1988 election, but his nationalist views on the state-owned Pemex oil company put him in line with López Obrador's positions. During the debate, Peña Nieto pointed out that the PAN and PRD have aligned themselves in coalitions against the PRI and cited that as one factor why the PRI did not cooperate on all government reforms. Quadri, a university professor who did not directly attack the PRI in the first debate, this time called the PRI the party of dinosaurs, the PAN the party of conservatives and the PRD the party of populism. Vázquez Mota said a vote for Quadri is a vote for the family of teachers union leader Gordillo. Quadri responded by telling viewers to watch a YouTube video in which Vázquez Mota, then the nation's education minister, calls Gordillo a dear friend.
Photo: López Obrador and Bartlett shake hands at a rally in photo shown by Vázquez Mota during the debate.
Campaign coordinators debate
Afterward, the campaign coordinators for the four presidential candidates discussed the debate with Televisa news anchor Joaquín López-Doriga. Vázquez Mota coordinator Roberto Gil Zuarth said he feared Peña Nieto's proposal to limit food imports would send Mexico's economy back to the 1950s; Gil said what the country needed was improved agricultural production. He also said the energy price cuts Peña Nieto and López Obrador seek also could send the country backwards. Peña Nieto campaign coordinator Luis Videgaray said the billions in government savings López Obrador said he would find were a fantasy without the smallest underpinning of fact. Videgaray amplified on Peña Nieto's statement that the PRI had backed most of Calderón's initiatives , saying it had supported 91 of 118 (without mentioning, however, the most important reforms were not among those backed.) Monreal wanted to know why Peña Nieto had apparently made a large number of trips to Miami during his governorship. The campaign coordinators' roundtable, billed as an analysis of the election, wound up being more of a debate than the presidential debate was.
Photo taken from television: From far left, clockwise: López-Doriga, Videgaray, Gil Zuarth, Monreal and Castro.