Today's date:
Fall 2006

The Election of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Carlos Fuentes, Mexico’s leading novelist and a member of NPQ’s editorial board, spoke with us just after the Mexican election.

NPQ | What does it mean for Mexico that Felipe Calderon, the candidate of the right, has won the election against the leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador by a very slim margin?

Carlos Fuentes | It means that the campaign of fear against Lopez Obrador—that he would turn back Mexico to its old ways—worked. It means that President Fox is still popular in Mexico. He was not a dead weight on Calderon. It means that Calderon now has to be seduced from the far right wing of his own party.

Whoever won this election would have had to move either to the center left or to the center right. Mexico is now a normal democracy in which, as elsewhere, all politics are pushed toward the center.

Calderon’s challenge now is that he must convince half the country that voted against him to let him govern.

NPQ | Why is the country so divided?

Fuentes | For 71 years before Fox, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) governed Mexico. The opacity of its power, its revolutionary rhetoric, its strong-arm imposition of political unity disguised the Mexican reality. Now that it has disappeared from the scene as a force during the Fox years, the country can show its true face: Half the country is left; half the country is right.

NPQ | Lopez Obrador wanted to end the NAFTA provisions on corn and beans to help farmers and to renegotiate other areas of the treaty. Was this election a referendum on NAFTA and globalization?

Fuentes | Not at all. Foreign affairs was totally absent from this election. Lopez Obrador never mentioned the United States, Hugo Chavez or Brazil’s (President) Lula. Neither did Calderon. This was a purely internal election.

The election was entirely about the way the country should go in the future, its direction. Though deeply divided, it chose, barely, to stay the course Fox has set.

Catholicism was an incredibly important factor in pushing Calderon, from the Catholic PAN (National Action Party), over the edge to victory. His victory is a triumph of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. She is the only true reality in Mexico. She is all that people really believe in.

The Virgin cuts right through the social scale. The very poorest Mexicans, natural voters for Lopez Obrador, trust mainly the Virgin. To the extent that Calderon was able to present himself as the Catholic candidate, he won. In California, 57 percent of Mexican immigrants voted for the Catholic Calderon.

NPQ | Is there some global lesson here? Every democracy—the US, Italy, Germany—is so closely divided in every national election. Why?

Fuentes | Ever since the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet bogeyman no longer hung over national elections and enabled the formation of large majorities, elections in every democracy have been getting closer and closer. This means that people take into account other factors in life—lifestyle issues, economic inequality, religion, the personality of leaders.

Bare majorities or pluralities will sometime lean a bit left or a bit right. In countries where the left wins, for example Great Britain, the other half that didn’t vote for them pushes them toward conservatism.

Truly, we know we’ve seen the end of ideology when we see this in Mexico as well. It’s pure politics.