MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Mexicans choose a new president on Sunday and the election has big implications for the U.S. Mexico's new leader will have an impact on immigration, trade and drug enforcement, just to name a few issues. The top two candidates have very different agendas, but they both stress their desire to work with the United States.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro prepared this report from Mexico City.
Mr. ARTURO SARUKHAN (International Affairs Adviser, Mexican Presidential Candidate Felipe Calderon): What I think is playing out here is a very crucial debate taking place in Latin America today over what the road ahead for Latin America entails.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:
Arturo Sarukhan is an American-educated former diplomat and an international affairs adviser to conservative candidate Felipe Calderon. Calderon is promoting free trade and open markets. He hopes to act as a counterbalance to countries like Venezuela and Bolivia. In short -
Mr. SARUKHAN: There is no country more important to the future wellbeing of Mexico than the United States.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Manuel Camacho, on the other hand, is an adviser to leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Mr. MANUEL CAMACHO (Advisor, Mexican Presidential Candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador): I think we are going to have a very good relationship. He has been very careful not to confront the U.S. government.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lopez Obrador wants to see more state intervention in the economy. Vast public works projects will create jobs, he says, for the millions of Mexicans who live in poverty and must be helped. While critics have warned he will create an alliance with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and join Latin America's leftist tide, Camacho says Lopez Obrador has more in common with U.S. ally, Chile's President Michel Bachelet.
Mr. CAMACHO: We like very much what they have done in Chile, with Bachelet leading Chile.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course beneath the surface there are some very real differences in how the two candidates will deal with key issues. Lopez Obrador wants to reopen negotiation on the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. In particular, he wants to stop plans to eliminate trade barriers on beans and corn in 2008. He says farmers already competing with subsidized American produce will go bankrupt.
Calderon's Arturo Sarukhan says that renegotiating NAFTA is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Mr. SARUKHAN: It's the wrong move because it would open Pandora's Box. Just as we have a problem with beans and corn, there are so many other constituencies in Mexico and in the United States and in Canada that have their own lists of things that they would like to reopen for negotiation, that by doing this, we would basically scuttle NAFTA. And that, I don't think, would be in the interests of any of the three countries.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Another cross-border issue is crime. Calderon is calling for a mano firme, or firm hand, to deal with delinquency. Lopez Obrador believes crime can be lessened through social programs that alleviate poverty. Both talk tough, though, when it comes to combating drug gangs.
But perhaps the most important issue is immigration. Both camps want legalization for undocumented Mexicans working in the U.S. Both think the wall is a terrible idea. But Lopez Obrador believes that outgoing President Vicente Fox, from Calderon's own party, was weak with Washington. He wants to take a tougher stand while Calderon believes working with the U.S. is the best way forward.
Mr. JORGE CHEVAD(ph) (Center for Research and Teaching Economics, Mexico City): I think that if Lopez Obrador wins, the rhetorics vis-à-vis the United States will be more nationalistic, a little bit more aggressive.
Jorge Chevad is an expert on U.S./Mexico relations at the Center for Research and Teaching Economics in Mexico City. But he says he doesn't think either candidate can really change how Mexico and the U.S. deal with one another.
Mr. CHEVAD: The relationship is very pragmatic. Mexico and the United States are condemned to cooperate because basically they don't have any option, for better or for worse.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chevad says that the U.S. and Mexico are in a difficult marriage and neither can get a divorce. Or, as a former president here once famously said when describing the ties that bind the two countries together, Poor Mexico. So far from God. So close to the United States.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.
NORRIS: You can find profiles of leading candidates and issues in Mexico's election at NPR.org.