Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Mexico: A Left-Wing Firebrand Cools the Rhetoric and Embraces NAFTA

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Mexico: A Left-Wing Firebrand Cools the Rhetoric and Embraces NAFTA

Article excerpt

Mexico: Left-wing poll-leader embraces NAFTA

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MEXICO CITY - While the countries re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement huddled quietly in a Mexico City hotel last week, a neighbourhood away a noisy political event unfolded that could affect the agreement's fate.

A boisterous throng of 10,000 gathered a few blocks away to approve the platform for the left-wing nationalist political party currently leading the polls for Mexico's July presidential election.

That very election has prompted insiders to declare a sense of urgency in competing NAFTA talks -- before Mexico's voters potentially hand the presidency to a left-wing anti-establishment party whose leader famously held anti-NAFTA views.

That candidate is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- a household name here, known universally by the acronym AMLO. He's also a former two-time presidential candidate and ex-mayor of Mexico City, and currently leads numerous polls, suggesting he could be elected in a few months.

His party is trying to cool that firebrand reputation.

The platform itself contains a dollop of centre-left, belt-tightening economics a la Bill Clinton and Jean Chretien: it promises spending cuts and a balanced budget initially, increased social spending later in the mandate, and corporate tax cuts in a special economic zone near the U.S. border to make businesses competitive there.

It offers qualified support for NAFTA, calling it a guarantor of stability that could use improvements, particularly for peasant farmers in Mexico's south. It also argues that the talks should happen under Mexico's next government, because the current one led by Enrique Pena Nieto lacks the popularity and legitimacy to negotiate on Mexico's behalf.

The man who presented the platform is a wealthy industrialist. Alfonso Romo was once skeptical of Lopez Obrador, and doesn't even belong to AMLO's Morena party.

But the morning after the platform release, speaking over breakfast in his office overlooking Mexico City, Romo explains why he came around on AMLO. He said he observed his competent and wildly popular reign as mayor of Mexico City, and also got to know him.

He now bristles with indignation that anyone would dare compare AMLO to Hugo Chavez, a frequent slur levelled just this past week by former Clinton and Obama administration official Lawrence Summers.

"Pure lies," Romo says, who calls his candidate "pro-business."

"We are pro-NAFTA. We need NAFTA. We believe in a strong North America.... We are not going to raise taxes. We are going to reduce expenses. We are going to balance the budget in the fourth year."

He even rejects the populist label. Romo says that term better applies to the current and previous government of Mexico, who over the last decade allowed the national debt to balloon.

He insists his firebrand friend is even more closely aligned with Canadian and American positions on NAFTA than the current U. …

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