Mexico election: Manuel Lopez Obrador will fight back against Donald Trump, say expats | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 29.06.2018
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Mexico election: Manuel Lopez Obrador will fight back against Donald Trump, say expats

Only a fraction of the 11 million Mexicans in the US will vote in their homeland's presidential election. But that doesn't mean the others don't have opinions, especially about Manuel Lopez Obrador and Donald Trump.

After having spent a good part of one sunny morning earlier this week taking care of some personal business at Mexico's Consulate General in downtown Washington, 81-year-old Roberto Pedraza is ready for a break.

Standing in the shade outside the building, Pedraza, a retired pediatrician, accompanied by his wife and daughter, is eating a lunch platter from the Mexican food truck that is parked on a nearby street and caters to consulate visitors.

Approached about his personal take on the upcoming presidential election in his native country, Pedraza stops eating immediately and says that he really does not care much about any of the key candidates and parties.

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PRI must go

While he is not sold on any political party, he expressed particular disdain for the PRI, the country's Institutional Revolutionary Partyaptly named since it led Mexico uninterruptedly for 71 years from 1929 to 2000 and currently leads the government again.

"That party should disappear," Pedraza said, arguing that the PRI has consistently weakened the country instead of improving things, especially the economic situation in Mexico, which he considered an essential topic.

He also expressed strong views about the chances of Mexico's leading candidate, Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is widely described in the international media as a leftist version of Trump.

"If they hate Trump, they will vote for Obrador," predicted Pedraza, who hails from the western state of Michoacan but has lived in the Washington area for decades, about the voting preferences of his fellow Mexicans. That's because, he noted, most Mexicans feel that the current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, of the PRI, has not been forceful enough in pushing back against President Trump.

Trump inspects prototype barriers in California (Getty Images/AFP/M. Ngan)

Trump's plan to build a wall along the Mexican border and have Mexico pay for it has roiled many voters

Desire for change

Since declaring his candidacy for president, Trump has repeatedly lashed out against the US' southern neighbor. For instance, he has alleged that Mexico sends "rapists" across the border into the US, he has demanded that Mexico pay for a wall to seal it off its border with the US, and he has threatened to nix the long-standing NAFTA free trade agreement that binds the US, Mexico and Canada together economically.      

"People want change," Pedraza said. And, he added, they want someone who will do a better job defending Mexico against Trump's constant attacks. "Obrador is going to fight Trump."

Lina Ramirez, a 24-year-old originally from Guadalajara, shares the view that a President Obrador, whom she also described as a Mexican version of Trump, would hit back strongly against his US counterpart. "The bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States will definitely worsen," predicted Ramirez, who studies government in New York and was visiting friends who work at the consulate. She opposes Obrador and is no fan of Trump either. "Both are very stubborn and don't like to lose."   

Obrador favored

Samuel Moreno Santo, 24, a cook from Richmond, Virginia, had come to Washington to renew his passport. Asked about his view of Mexico's presidential candidates, he said that he was not well-informed about the election, but knew one thing. "I don't like Obrador." Explaining his staunch opposition to the leading presidential contender, Santo, who described himself as a Christian, said that he perceived Obrador as anti-Christian due to some of his remarks. He added that should Obrador win, as projected by public opinion polls, he expected him to not hold back when attacked by Trump and the two would clash openly.          

To be sure, the three Mexican nationals polled outside the country's consulate general in Washington obviously don't constitute a representative sampling of the 11 million Mexicans living in the US and their view of the country's presidential election. They also differ in their negative view of Obrador compared with a poll among the approximately 500,000 registered US-based Mexican voters published in May by Latino Decisions, a research group focused on Hispanics. According to the survey, 40 percent of registered voters favored Obrador, whereas all other major candidates scored in the single digits.  

The support for Obrador among Mexicans in the US is at least on a par with, or might even exceed, his popularity in the US, explained Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a Mexico scholar at George Mason University. That's because for most Mexicans here, she noted, the bilateral relationship and US immigration policy is crucial and trumps issues like crime and corruption. And the US president, in the view of many Mexicans in the US, has taken a wrecking ball to both of those key issues.  

Donald Trump and Enrique Pena Nieto (picture-alliance/AP Photo/E. Vucci)

Many Mexicans feel that the current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has been too soft with Trump

World Cup 2026

While their view of Obrador was not reflective of the majority of Mexicans in the US, said Correa-Cabrera, the Mexicans polled impromptu at the consulate general were spot-on about a key impact that an expected Obrador victory would have on bilateral relations. "We are going to see definitely a more tense relationship because Lopez Obrador is a nationalist and he reacts very fast and strongly sometimes."

Scholar Correa-Cabrera, who is herself Mexican and will serve as an election observer on Sunday, said a change in the nature of the ties between both countries was inevitable should the leftist Obrador win. This would be true despite the fact that he has been more moderate during the election campaign than in previous failed runs.

"I would say with confidence that no matter how moderate he is in practice, the relationship is going to change," she said, adding that if elected, the Mexican people would expect Obrador to get tougher in dealings with Trump.

While this does not seem to bode well for future ties between the two countries beyond Sunday's election, it all depends on the perspective one takes, Pedraza, the retired pediatrician, offered.

"Everything will be better in 2026 when Mexico, the US and Canada will host the World Cup together."

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