Editorials | At Issue | September 2006
|Mexico Vote Gives Bush New "Amigo" in Latin America|
Catherine Bremer - Reuters
Felipe Calderon's election victory in Mexico gives the U.S. government a much-needed conservative ally in Latin America, where it has lost influence in recent years as a string of leftist leaders took power.
For months, it seemed that Washington would have to work with a combative Mexican leader in Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a fiery leftist who led opinion polls and promised to end two decades of U.S.-backed economic reforms.
But Calderon won the narrowest of victories and Mexico's electoral court named him president-elect on Tuesday, throwing out Lopez Obrador's accusations of massive fraud.
Like outgoing President Vicente Fox, Calderon will be a counterweight to leftists in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina who are challenging U.S. interests on politics, trade, energy and investment.
Calderon plans to be an active player in regional politics. "I want Mexico to be a winner on the international stage .... particularly in Latin America," he told supporters on Tuesday.
His foreign policy advisor Arturo Sarukhan said Calderon hopes to make an official visit to Washington before taking power on Dec 1.
"There is no country more important to the future well-being of Mexico and Mexicans than the United States," he said. "We're going to work hard to get Washington's attention on how to propel this relationship forward."
While Fox tried to put U.S. immigration reform at the center of talks with Washington, Sarukhan said Calderon will broaden the agenda to include border security and attacking poverty in Mexico.
Analysts say U.S. policy makers are glad it is Calderon and not Lopez Obrador they will work with on sensitive issues like security, illegal immigration and drug smuggling along the porous 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border.
"It's good news for the United States and for the bilateral relationship," said Rafael Fernandez at Mexico's ITAM university.
President George Bush's administration was always seen as preferring Calderon, and even more so now since Lopez Obrador led huge protests to press accusations of fraud in the July 2 vote, shutting down central Mexico City for weeks.
Lopez Obrador vows to set up a radical parallel government. At the least, Calderon faces months of protests and a combative leftist opposition in Congress.
"There's no question that they (U.S. officials) are relieved, especially after seeing Lopez Obrador's post-election conduct," said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.
With a bookish upbringing and stilted English, Calderon may find it harder to build a personal friendship with Bush than Fox, a rancher and former Coca-Cola executive with a taste for cowboy boots and straight talking.
But Calderon is a committed conservative and will likely stand alongside Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch U.S. ally, as well as rightist leaders in Central America, on major regional issues.
Latin America's radical bloc is led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce U.S. critic and ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro who wants to forge a socialist alliance with leftist governments in Argentina and Bolivia.
Fox squared up to Chavez, Castro and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner in ugly rows that showed his alliance with Bush but also undercut his own influence in Latin America.
Calderon's diplomatic style will likely be softer, and his first priority may be