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Wednesday, June 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Ruben Navarrette Jr. / Syndicated columnist

Mexico — and Americans — could use a good revolution

SAN DIEGO — Angry over illegal immigration and yet reluctant to take even a sliver of responsibility for it, some Americans have devised an interesting way to fight back: They're calling for a revolution — in Mexico.

Naturally. Better to change the government on that side of the border than to change our behavior on this side. We want to be free to continue hiring illegal immigrants to increase profits and make our lives easier, but we also want to be able to blame Mexico for supplying the illicit commodity for which we have developed an insatiable appetite.

Now with the approach of Mexico's presidential election on Sunday — the first such match-up since Vicente Fox and the National Action Party (PAN) triumphed over the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000 — those who say they want radical change may get their wish.

Here's the irony: While many of the Americans in this camp probably consider themselves conservative, the candidate who is most likely to deliver what they want is a left-leaning populist.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the ex-mayor of Mexico City and presidential candidate representing the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), may just win a contest that is considered too close to call.

At first glance, you would think that conservatives — with thoughts of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez running through their heads — would cringe at the prospect of a populist on the southern border. But in this case, they'd be wise to take a closer look at López Obrador and his appeal to Mexican voters.

The candidate — referred to by members of the Mexican media as AMLO — doesn't waste time blaming the United States for Mexico's woes, as Mexican politicians are prone to do. AMLO cuts to the chase and blames Mexico, specifically the rich elites who prey upon the poor and then react with indifference when those without options leave home to search for opportunities in the United States. He promises to pump government money into the economy to jump-start it.

Of course, there are those in America who instinctively call this kind of talk "socialism" (as opposed to say, New Dealism?) and warn that it could devastate the Mexican economy and send ever more millions of migrants north across the border. Never mind that this is already happening and the situation isn't improving.

AMLO also deserves credit for talking about the human costs of Mexico's national shame — the fact that millions of its citizens have fled the country and, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, as much as 40 percent of their countrymen would do the same if they could.

For López Obrador, the saddest part of all this is the toll that the exodus takes on families in a country steeped in family values. Despite efforts by Fox to reach out to Mexicans in the United States — he has called them "heroes" for their contributions to their homeland — that doesn't change the essential fact that Mother Mexico still plays favorites among her children. The country's elites don't care one way or another about those who flee to the north. But throughout Mexico, real mothers care a great deal that their families have been broken apart because of a failure by government and businesses to provide gainful employment at home. No wonder the recurring theme in this election has become jobs, jobs, jobs.

According to the polls and judging from the large crowds that gather to hear him campaign, López Obrador and his message are catching fire, especially with the poor who have lost faith in the alternatives: the PRI, which looted the country in the past century, and the PAN, which didn't create enough jobs in the past six years.

The PRI candidate, Roberto Madrazo, was never in this race. Apparently the Mexican electorate has a good memory of past corruption and no desire to travel that road again.

The inheritor of the PAN's legacy is AMLO's chief competitor — Felipe Calderón, an ex-member of the Mexican Congress and energy minister. The Harvard-educated Calderón is pro-business, pro-trade and perfectly capable. Should he triumph, Mexico would probably be in good hands.

But there would be no revolution. And that may be exactly what is required.

Ruben Navarrette's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is

2006, The San Diego Union-Tribune