A Conversation with Josefina Vázquez Mota

According to Josefina Vázquez Mota, leading primary candidate for Mexico’s Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), the next nine months are not only going to shape the next six years in Mexico, but the rest of the 21st century.

With primary elections approaching –PAN will chose a candidate in February 2012 – the candidates vying for their parties’ nomination are making their agendas heard. Independent polls suggest Vázquez Mota is a favorite to represent the PAN. However, the PAN candidate will face stiff competition from the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Instituacional) and the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democrático) and will likely have difficulty reaching out to a skeptical electorate that feels the war on drugs is escalating despite government efforts.

In a public forum held at the Inter-American Dialogue on October 21st, Vázquez presented her agenda in four priority areas: 1) democracy and federalism, 2) the economy, 3) education reform, and 4) justice and security. She highlighted the importance of improving relations not only with the United States, but also Asia and the rest of Latin America. Despite Mexico’s difficult circumstances, she argued, there is still a window of opportunity to make Mexico a more prosperous country.

Vázquez noted that there is a sudden nostalgia for an authoritarian state, referring to the 70 years the PRI was in power. However, she pointed out that “people should note that there is a big difference between a strong state and an authoritarian one. A strong state is also a state where competition is allowed, locks are removed, and exceptions do not exist.”

Despite the recent financial and economic crises worldwide, Mexico has been able to maintain economic stability, but at the expense of economic growth. Strengthening Mexico’s economy will entail labor, energy, and agricultural reforms, Vázquez noted. “Mexicans work a lot but produce little. Clearly, productivity in the country is weak.”

Investment in education will be key to increasing productivity. Quality, coverage, and retention will be her education priorities. Vázquez stated she would deal directly with teachers instead of negotiating with the head of the traditionally powerful teachers’ union to achieve the education reform needed.

She left Mexico’s most pressing challenge, insecurity, for last. With more than 50,000 deaths linked directly to the war on drugs and crime initiated by Felipe Calderón in 2006, security and justice are foremost on the minds of Mexican citizens. Vázquez commented on the unique situation unfolding in Mexico contending, “There is organized crime in every country. The difference in Mexico is that we don’t draw a line. We cannot continue to allow people involved in the drug trade to open businesses and obtain amnesty and immunity.” Once citizens have regained trust in police forces, she intends to remove military troops from domestic law enforcement.

With the primaries fast approaching, Vázquez hopes to tap into Mexicans’ desire to break with the country’s political past and lead Mexico into a new age of security and prosperity. When asked why she decided to run for the presidency, she responded, “People are tired of politicians and political parties. This election they will vote for the candidate and not the party […] I think Mexico is ready for a female president and for someone who is willing to change the art of war into the art of peace.”

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