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Mexican Presidential Candidate Keeps Her Cool in LA

Posted: Mar 13, 2012

LOS ANGELES – Dressed in a blue suit, both simple and elegant, presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota of Mexico’s National Action Party (PAN) left the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles the same way she arrived: smiling and greeting everyone, in the midst of applause, remaining cool and composed -- even when a member of the audience accused her of recognizing the strength of Mexico’s middle class, but not the more than 50,000 people who have died due to violence in the last five years.

Moments earlier, the candidate had said she agreed that there was growth and strengthening of the more than 7 million middle-class families in Mexico who can now go on vacation more often, get car loans and send their kids to school on scholarships; however, she did not condemn Mexico’s current policy against drug trafficking. She even stressed that she would not negotiate with organized crime, implying that if she were elected president she would continue the same policy initiated by fellow PAN member, President Felipe Calderon in 2006.

Under this policy, Calderon has deployed troops to Mexico’s drug trafficking hot spots, effectively militarizing the war on drugs -- a move that has actually led to an increase in bloodshed and violent deaths in Mexico. The question in Mexico’s July 2012 presidential election is: Will the Mexican people elect another member of PAN, or will their intolerance of the escalation in violence lead them to choose someone who might take a different approach?

“If [President Calderon] had not dealt with organized crime, it would have been like handing over complete territories, entire families and entire networks of corruption to drug trafficking and violence. I’ve also said that in my view ... I don’t think we should negotiate with criminals, but I think we have learned lessons and I will do things differently because there are a lot of things that have not been done in the area of security. So, I greatly respect your point of view,” said Vazquez Mota in response to the comment by Agustín Constantino, one of those present at the hearing.

“I’m not saying you should sit down and talk with the narcos, but you should recognize that the strategy [against violence in Mexico] so far is wrong,” Constantino said to the candidate.

Interviewed by journalist Sergio Muñoz Bata, and invited by the Aztec Foundation to talk about her life and her hopes for Mexico, Vazquez Mota did not disappoint and most of the audience seemed to like her.

She stressed the importance of education in Mexico, an issue she considers essential to improving the standard of living in the country. At the same time, she expressed concern over having an education union that is so close to politics.

But when asked if the current president was responsible for the violence in Mexico, the candidate voiced no criticism of Calderon's strategy. Instead, she responded with examples from her own childhood and the importance of family security, saying that she hoped that one day people would be able to trust Mexican police again just as she did when she was growing up. She also stressed that violence has been in the country for a long time and that someone had to confront it, and President Calderon took that step, precisely because he wanted to avoid an even worse situation.

Reporter Muñoz, who interviewed the candidate, suggested that violence in Mexico might simply be a matter of social communication: Other countries like Brazil and the United States have more victims of violence, but the way they measure and talk about the problem is different. Meanwhile, Mexico has kept a running tally of violent deaths for the last six years, something that makes it seem like a more violent country and masks other realities like the Mexican people’s achievements, hard work and success stories.

Other topics of concern during the interview included the economy, security, the strengthening of public institutions at all levels and an emphasis on education.

At the end of the interview, some of the 150 onlookers, including Mexicans, Americans and those interested in Mexican politics, agreed that the candidate’s career was admirable and applauded the fact that she didn’t lose her cool when faced with tough questions from an audience member. However, not everyone was convinced that they would vote for her.

Pedro Ramirez, a student at the University of Southern California (USC) who is from Guanajuato, said he was impressed with the way Vázquez Mota expressed herself and although he wasn’t sure he would vote for her, so far, he said, she might be the best of the three presidential candidates.

Isabel Espinosa, also a student at USC and a Mexican citizen, said she liked Vázquez Mota’s positions, but said Mexico needed a change -- not necessarily in political party, but in its strategy against violence.

Thalia Martinez, a Mexican citizen who lives in Mexico City, was more critical, saying the interview had confirmed for her that she would not be voting for Vázquez Mota. "She responded like any politician; she answered everyone, but she didn’t say anything."

Other Mexicans living in the U.S. who watched the interview stressed the candidate’s controlled way of answering questions, without getting upset or avoiding the subject. Like Isabel, many audience members were left thinking they might even vote for her -- but only if she changed the policy on combatting violence in Mexico.

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