Today's date:
Winter 2009

Obama: The First Mestizo Leader North of the Border

Carlos Fuentes’ most recent book is Happy Families, a collection of short stories. Along with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, he was recently awarded the Quixote Prize by the king of Spain. The following essay has been translated from the Spanish.

Mexico City—The historical election of Barack Obama—the first “mestizo”—to the White House will go a long way toward redeeming the promise of the United States in the eyes of the world, particularly after the truly ruinous Bush tenure. For the first time, a mixed-race leader will have come to power north of the border.

Obama will face the most difficult agenda since Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. Bush’s market fundamentalist ideology—that the market can manage itself with minimal regulation from the state—has led to the remarkable national recapitalization (some would call it nationalization) of top American banks.

Without doubt, the next US president will have to increase the economic role of the state, raise taxes, expand public spending and apply a policy of redistribution on a grand scale.

Unemployment will increase. Profits will fall. And the abyss between the haves and the have-nots will be plain for all to see. The middle class will slide toward greater poverty. Resentment will grow between those who can barely pay for a university education and for health care, and those in the financial world with their shameless bonuses and “golden parachutes.”

Yet, I do not underestimate the capacity of the US—especially under a Democratic administration led by Obama—to recover. But the investment should be directed away from anything that smells of market speculation and toward the modernization of infrastructure. A visitor to the US is astonished at the deterioration of dams, railroads, public spaces and schools—not to mention the absence of decent health care and pensions—above all in comparison with Europe.

The election of Obama has certainly thrilled those of us who must live with the choices of the democratic process in the US, even though we live outside the country.