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Mexican Candidate Resists Comparisons with Chavez
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Mexican Candidate Resists Comparisons with Chavez

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Mexican Candidate Resists Comparisons with Chavez

Mexican Candidate Resists Comparisons with Chavez
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With two weeks to go before Mexico's July 2 election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is running nearly even with his main opponent, Felipe Calderon of the conservative governing National Action Party. Lopez Obrador, the fiery former Mexico City mayor, has polarized Mexican politics with his promises of social programs. But his opponents claim Lopez Obrador's plan would push Mexico into an economic crisis that would rival the struggles of Venezuela.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's still a tight race, but the majority of polls in Mexico now show the leftist candidate ahead of his closest rival by a few percentage points. Mexico's presidential election is just over a week away.

In the first of a series of profiles on the top candidates, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro sent this report on the current frontrunner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

LOURDES GARCIA: It's hot in the city of Queretaro. The crowd that has gathered in the Plaza de Armas is not that large. This is enemy territory after all. The mayor here is from an opposing party. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador strides onto the stage in a white button-down shirt, the collar open, his pose relaxed.

This is AMLO, as he's known here, at his best. There is no doubt he has the common touch. He often uses colloquial phrases and cracks jokes. He is at ease with the crowd.

ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking foreign language)

GARCIA: His main opponent, Felipe Calderon from the right, has tried to paint him as a demagogue who will scare off investment and ruing the economy. So AMLO's message on this day is to not be afraid of his plans for the country.

MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Through translator) We are not against businessmen, as those who see us with negative eyes have been saying. We are not against business. We cannot be against those who invest and generate jobs. We are against those who traffic influence, the corrupt, not businessmen.

GARCIA: It's an attempt to swing undecided voters, mainly in the lower middle classes, who are viewed as key in this election. But Lopez Obrador's campaign is centered around his slogan that the poor must come first and much of what he says is geared towards the 50 percent of the country who live in some degree of poverty.

MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Through translator) The country cannot be governed when there's an ocean of inequality. It's not human what happens in our country. No one with dignity can feel good about living in a country where the few have everything and the majority lacks even the most basic things. We can't accept that reality.

GARCIA: His economic proposals, and that is the issue that most Mexicans are interested in, revolve around the campaign of public spending, a new overland shipping route that will rival the Panama Canal, high-speed railways connecting cities and the planting of a million acres of furniture- grade forest will provide the jobs. Subsidies will do the rest, he says, to help those most in need.

MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Through translator) Come December, I will reduce the cost of light, gas and gasoline.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GARCIA: The money, he says, will come through trimming the federal payroll and making more people pay taxes. Mexico has one of the worst tax collection rates in the region.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was born in the state of Tabasco on November 13, 1953, the first son of shopkeeper parents and the eldest of what would be seven siblings. He became an Indian rights activist and was the founder of the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party, under whose ticket he's now running. AMLO really became, though, a national force in politics when he became the mayor of Mexico City in 2000.

He drew a fanatical following, mainly among the disadvantaged of this megalopolis, for his colorful policies, like giving a stipend to retiring prostitutes. He also garnered an equally strong disapproval from those who saw him as a manipulator of public opinion. Things haven't changed. That split is being played out today on the national stage. Few Mexicans are indifferent to the man who's vying to be Mexico's first leftist president.

After the rally, Marcela Rodriguez Montoro(ph), a retired teacher, says that she loves AMLO.

MARCELA RODRIGUEZ MONTORO: (Through translator) I think he is someone who is prepared. He really understands all the problems of the country. And he is going to do everything he can to change things. There is no equality here. There are ever more disparities between the rich and the poor. And the promises that were made to the working class are not being honored.

GARCIA: Across town in a tree-lined square, 57-year-old Antonio Areola(ph) is getting his shoes shined. He says he thinks AMLO is creating social divisions among the rich and the poor that could lead to disaster.

ANTONIO AREOLA: (Through translator) I think he's a very volatile person. I think there could be a revolution if he comes to power because I think he's really led by South American countries like Venezuela.

GARCIA: Mexico's election takes place on July the 2nd.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Queretaro, Mexico.

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