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Can President Calderon deliver where others have failed?

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Posted: Friday, September 8, 2006 10:00 pm

For California voters, the most important 2006 election will not be the Senate race between incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein and her Republican challenger Dick Mountjoy.

Nor will it be the gubernatorial contest between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides.

And none of the 53 Congressional races is likely to have the impact on California that the recently concluded Mexican presidential race where Felipe Calderon was officially declared the winner over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will have.

Let's be candid. Whether Feinstein, Mountjoy, Schwarzenegger, Angelides or Democrats or Republicans prevail in Congress come November, federal and state government will slog on with the painful sameness that marks it year after year.

But imagine the good that might come if president-elect Calderon succeeds.

Right now, Mexico is a mess and getting worse by the day.

A recent study by the School of Graduates in Public Administration at the Monterrey Institute of Technology shows that in Mexico the average income received by the population's poorest 10 percent is under 2 percent, while the wealthiest 10 percent receives 40 percent of national income. This awful statistic despite the fact that Mexico's economy is among the world's 15 largest.

The same analysis found that the average education of the poorest 10 percent of Mexicans barely reaches 4 years, and for the highest 10 percent, 12 years.

An expert in Mexican affairs, Hector Samuel Peña, wrote for the Web site that this continued income and educational disparity poses multiple risks for Mexico's future.

In the July 2 election that took two months to produce a winner, 63 percent of the Mexican population either didn't vote or did not support Calderon.

Lopez Obrador, the former Mayor of Mexico City and a strong leftist candidate who narrowly lost to Calderon, took to the streets to angrily demonstrate against what he called massive electoral fraud.

And even though the results have now been officially sanctioned by Mexico's highest electoral court, Lopez Obrador promises to continue to orchestrate his demonstrations that have paralyzed key parts of Mexico City for two months.

The question is whether Mexican democracy can function against such a chaotic backdrop.

The start for Calderon is rocky.

In the week leading up to the September annual national presidential address, the outgoing Vicente Fox was warned that opposition was mounting that would make it impossible for him to deliver his speech publicly.

To protect against that eventuality, Fox ordered his government to take extraordinary care to surround Congress with barricades, military vehicles and anti-riot police.

In the end though, the opposition prevailed. Fox, although he arrived safely at Congress, was prevented from delivering his remarks in person and was reduced to broadcasting a videotaped version.

The transition from Fox to Calderon is, so far, a grim preview of what might happen in Mexico.

Conditions in Latin American countries that include acute poverty, civil unrest and a desperate population usually end, at best, in an inability to govern effectively and, at worst, in coups, violence or civil war.

Calderon, who has Masters degrees in economics from the University of Mexico and public policy from Harvard University, promises to create more jobs in Mexico, build new refineries, expand health care, keep his administration free of corruption and create job and educational opportunities for the poor.

These campaign pledges no doubt sound familiar. And they are. All three of Mexico's last presidents, Fox, Ernesto Zedillo and Carlos Salinas de Gotari made them but failed to deliver.

If Mexico is somehow able to come to grips with itself - a long shot given its century-old history of corrupt government - then the country has a chance to survive.

But if Calderon proves as inept as his predecessors and allows his government to fall into anarchy, California will look more attractive than ever to displaced Mexicans.

Then what will we do?

Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. He can be reached by e-mail at joaquin@lodinet.com.

First published: Friday, September 8, 2006

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