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FEATURE La Loteria Mas Grande A quick tour of the roller-coaster world of presidential politics in Mexico BY BARBARA BELEJACK What more do you want, Vicente? Don’t you see where your love for that woman has brought you? Don’t you see that it’s not just about your life, but the welfare of the country? . . . Please, Vicente. Reflect! e-mail message by Jose Ramon Saenz Andrade, posted on the website of El Universal, July 5, 2004 ears ago the king of television entertainment in –y Mexico was a variety show host named Raul Velasco, a prim-looking man with balding hair, wire-rim glasses, and a goofy grin. Week after week, year after year, he would chat up the starlets and good-looking galanes, the leading men on telenovelas. He would applaud the ranchero singers, the nortefio musicians, and even, from time to time, Placid Domingo. And before every commercial break he would peer into the camera and announce: “Y aiin hay mils!” “And there’s even more to come!” Raul Velasco and his treacly show are long gone, replaced by a plague of Big Brother and Star Search clones. But his spirit lingers on. Whenever I sit down to try to unravel the agonizingly long battle of Mexico’s presidential successionfor which Big Brother has become a handy metaphor, by the wayI feel his spirit hovering above the keyboard. If you think the U.S. electoral season is arduous and acrimonious, consider Mexico, where voters won’t go to the polls until July 2006, but an all-out free-for all is already ragInstitutional Revolutionary Party, the ruling party of Mexico for most of the 20th cenRevolution, which has dominated Mexico City politics in recent years. Minor parties and independent candidates wait to pounce. The First Lady has presidential ambitions; the mayor of Mexico City has presidential ambitions; and the pundits and the press have declared that the man who actually holds the office seems to have lost his presidential way. “The calendar says President Vicente Fox is halfway through his six-year term,” wrote Tim Weiner of The New York Times in November 2003. “But the handwriting on the wall says that it is all but over and that his legacy is likely to be one of unfulfilled pledges and empty promises!’ Fox’s situation became even more problematic earlier this month when his all-in-one chief of staff/speechwriter/press spokesman resigned, while issuing an explosive critique of the president and his wife”la Sefiora Marta.” It was akin to Karl Rove, Andrew Card, and Scott McClellan turning against President George W. Bush because Laura was putting on Evita Peron airs. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Vamos por partes, as the saying goes. One step at a time, beginning with the pareja presidencial, “the presidential couple;’ who came to power in a historic election that ended the 71-year reign of the PRI. e like our stories simple. And so the story told on July 2, 2000, was that Mexico had elected an opposition candidate and overthrown a corrupt political system. The agent of this new, nonviolent revolution was Vicente Fox. With his six-foot-five-inch frame, booming voice made for radio, and his penchant for jeans and boots, the telegenic governor of Guanajuato and former Coca-Cola executive had successfully billed himself as the “candidate for change;’ attracting the support of influential businessmen, politicos, and academics from outside the PAN. Even voters who normally would not think of voting for a candidate of the conservative PAN, flocked to Fox. Among them was a friend of mine, a confirmed atheist who was wary of the candidate’s ties to the Monterrey business elite and to the overly mocho the woman who was always at his side, Fox’s press secretary and campaign manager, Marta Sahagtin. “But what else can you do?” he mused, explaining his vote. “We have to change!’ He was 50 years old and all his life there had never been a president from a party other than the PRI. As all politicians do, Fox had promised the impossible. He would resolve the conflict in Chiapas “in 15 minutes”; the economy would grow by 7 percent a year; and the rule of law would replace the reign of impunity in Mexican society once and for all. It didn’t take long to figure out that the administration was doomed by the unbearable burden of overly high expectations. Moreover, Fox had to deal with an increasingly cantankerous Congress. But as time wore on 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/16 /04