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What’s his name in Mexico

4 July 2008

Did I do it? A couple of weeks ago, “Mr. Rushing,” one of the more energetic commentators here, was asking about John McCain’s reputation in Mexico. At the time, I said that he didn’t seem to have one, that as far as the Mexican press was concerned, the U.S. Presidential elections were between Barack Obama and some other guy. Maybe that other guy’s handlers have been reading the Mex Files.

This week, McCain was keeping himself on the front pages of the Latin American press during his trip to Colombia and Mexico. Which kept him in the U.S. press. Which was the whole point.

While in Colombia, several hostages, including former Colombian presidential candidate (and dual French-Colombian national) Ingrid Betancourt and three Northrup-Grumman consultants were “rescued” from FARC. While some have suggested McCain was “unlucky” to be pushed off the front pages of the Latin papers by the rescue, others have commented that the timing.

I’d note that Colombian sources have made extravagant official claims in the past (remember the “magic laptops” that supposedly had Barack Obama, Hugo Chavez and every other conservative bugaboo all tied to what the Colombian government claims are “terrorists”? Or, when nobody bought that story, that INTERPOL confirmed at least part of it? Or, now that INTERPOL says they can’t confirm that the “magic laptops” were anywhere near FARC’s Ecuadorian jungle hideout, that maybe it’s not quite true… but LOOK, we freed the hostages?)  Swiss news sources are now reporting FARC claims that the Colombian government paid 20 million U.S. dollars ransom for the hostages… which — if true — mean it was hardly  the dramatic rescue that’s been claimed

Most American voters don’t care much about a free trade pact with Colombia – other than the labor unions that complain about the Colombian administration’s tendency to kill unionists. But, what’s important to U.S. voters is that McCain is seen in a foreign country, with a friendly leader working on something that fits his party’s platform.

And into Mexico. Calderon’s narrow victory in the last election probably owes something to the U.S. Republican Party and maybe Calderon owes them a favor. Not that the Mexican government wouldn’t work with whomever is elected President in the U.S., since it doesn’t look as if there will be any substantial change in relationships no matter what happens.  Mexicans the BBC spoke to didn’t think much of McCain.

Obama is probably more popular with the Mexican press – at least he’s somewhat of a novelty – but I can’t see what difference that makes to U.S. voters. The Calderon Administration, being PANista, and somewhat more sympathetic to the Republican Party in the U.S. — and conservative – probably would prefer to deal with the devil they know (a Republican from a border state) than one they don’t. And Mexicans remember their history: two Democratic Party Presidents — James Knox Polk and Woodrow Wilson – invaded the country, and whatever the party, when U.S. presidents say they want to “do something” about Latin America it makes people nervous.  Something… from Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, to Bush I’s “NAFTA” usually end up costing somebody their livelihood… or their lives.

But, Republican candidates in the U.S. are supposed to be “doing something” — preferably involving guns and police – in their own country about narcotics users. The Merida Initiative isn’t universally popular with Mexicans, but it is the Calderon Administration’s baby, and showing support might prop up McCain’s image as a “law and order” guy somewhat in the U.S.

McCain’s weird trip to Guadalupe is a little harder to figure out. Mexicans are scratching their collective heads over it. While there’s nothing wrong with making a visit to the Basilica (and I think every tourist in Mexico SHOULD see the place), foreign dignitaries – especially divorced Protestant ones – aren’t expected to go. And, given Mexico’s history of strict separation between Church and State – such trips are often seen as somewhat of a slap in the face to the secular Mexican state. But, PAN is considered a “clerical” party, and overt ties to the Church are no longer a political taboo.

But U.S. politicians are expected to be conventionally pious – even if they are divorced Protestants. Mexican Protestants – if they vote at all – tend to vote for the left (seeing the secular state as their best protection from tyranny by the majority). But other than a “photo op” the trip wasn’t designed for a Mexican audience. McCain’s party is the U.S. “religious party” and overt pandering to the religious voters is normal in U.S. politics.

There was nothing wrong with McCain making a Mexican trip… and it’s probably good politics for U.S. candidates to meet the neighbors, but this had very little to do with foreign relations, and everything to do with campaigning at home.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 July 2008 10:31 am

    Well damn! I guess that I will have to give you some money now, but only if you promise to post some pics of the result of Monterey (Mexico) Prepa School’s 19 and under American Football team when they visit North Texas and take on Allen High School’s football team on September 5th.

    I’ll send you some pictures. It should be a good game. Monterey has always played a good game. I think that they have beat or came very close to beating some of Texas’ best High Schools in the past.

    Hopefully this will be a close game. Maybe Americans will start to realize how much the US and Mexico actually have in common.

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