March 22, 2006

Few foreign ambitions for Mexican leftist candidate

By Alistair Bell

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Unlike other Latin
American leftists who have become globe-trotting stars,
Mexico's presidential front-runner has little interest in
foreign affairs, preferring the intricacies of creating local
jobs to international treaties.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says if he wins the election in
July he will put dealings with the rest of the world on the
backburner while he gets on with his life-long ambition of
tackling Mexico's endemic poverty.

"Lopez Obrador is not a politician who wants to have a
continental movement or who aspires to having a foreign policy
with a lot of international initiatives," the candidate's chief
political aide, Manuel Camacho Solis, told Reuters.

Mexico's status in the world will rise if it can first get
its own house in order by cutting the income gap and fighting
corruption, Lopez Obrador says.

"I am convinced that if things are working in my country
and there is development, political stability with justice and
democracy then we will be respected in the world," he told a
rally in the border city of Ciudad Juarez this week.

"Foreign policy will be an extension of domestic policy,"
said the leftist, who has headed opinion polls for the last
three years and has a lead of around 8 points over his main

He did not mention any other countries except the United
States in what he had billed as a major foreign policy speech.


His lack of concern for diplomatic affairs has sparked the
untrue rumor among opponents in Mexico City's posh suburbs that
he does not even hold a passport.

Lopez Obrador's stay-at-home style contrasts with that of
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who launched a tour of Europe
and China straight after winning elections last year and caught
the world media's eye by wearing the same homely sweater on
every stop.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has made the
leap from former metalworker to global politics player with
relative ease, but Lopez Obrador often looks uncomfortable
discussing the world beyond Mexico.

One relationship he cannot afford to neglect is with main
trading partner the United States, Camacho Solis said.

Lopez Obrador has deliberately avoided the type of
anti-U.S. rhetoric increasingly heard in Latin America, so as
to keep his mind on winning the election and trying to drag
millions of Mexicans out of poverty, the aide said.

The candidate said in Ciudad Juarez he wanted to get on
well with Washington. The tens of millions of Mexicans living
in the United States send home around $20 billion a year to
friends and family. The immigrants' welfare is a key issue in
Mexican politics.

"We need to have good relations with the United States. We
live on the money our families send from there," said retired
construction worker Juan Ramirez, 67, whose seven children live
in five U.S. states

President Vicente Fox is a frequent traveler to regional
and world summits and critics complain he has produced little
from his globe-trotting.

A Fox plan for an immigration accord with the United States
to legalize millions of Mexican undocumented workers has not
materialized after five years of trying.

But a U.S. Senate panel last week neared agreement on a
proposal that would give some of the 12 million illegal aliens
living in the country, most of them Mexicans, an opportunity to
earn citizenship.

Fox has allowed Mexico's relations with the rest of Latin
America to chill and Lopez Obrador would eventually mend that,
Camacho Solis said.