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U.S. Border States Have Stake In Mexico's Election


In southern Texas and in Arizona, people are paying a lot of attention to the presidential election - Mexico's presidential election. From member station KJZZ, Peter O'Dowd explains why millions of Americans are awaiting July 1st, Mexico's election day.

PETER O'DOWD, BYLINE: Stand on the edge of this unfinished railroad bridge outside of Brownsville, Texas, and you can see across the Rio Grande into Mexico. It's the first bridge of its kind to connect the countries in a century. And for businessman John Wood, it's a symbol of the way lives connect along the border.

JOHN WOOD: We are tied together. It's kind of like an umbilical cord.

O'DOWD: Texas does more business with its southern neighbor than any other state. And that's a big reason why Wood says Mexico's upcoming election means as much to him as the November contest here.

WOOD: If Mexico isn't doing well, it doesn't seem to be a whole of difference what's happening in Washington.

O'DOWD: Wood says the next president could help make Mexico well again. A more stable and calmer Mexico would mean more investment and more jobs in Brownsville.

WOOD: A better life for, not only me, but for everyone who lives in the area.

O'DOWD: Some Americans along the border have a huge stake in Mexican politics. The Woodrow Wilson Center estimates the two countries traded a record half-a-trillion dollars in goods and services last year. Investment fell off during the recession, but has steadily climbed back despite escalating drug violence. Analysts say business would strengthen even more if Mexico solved its cartel problem.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: That's absolutely right, according to Daniel Hong. He owns this general goods store a few yards from Brownsville's port. Hong says sales have dropped 60 percent in recent years, and it doesn't have much to do with the economy.

DANIEL HONG: My clientele are mostly Mexican nationals. If they're afraid to leave their houses, I'm not going to have customers - simply put.

O'DOWD: So Hong has an opinion on the election. On a personal level, he supports the National Action Party, or the PAN, and the continuation of President Felipe Calderon's drug-war offensive. But on a business level, he supports the PRI. The Institutional Revolutionary Party ran Mexico for 71 years and kept relative peace, analysts say, by turning a blind eye to the cartels.

HONG: They will give, you know, the Northern Mexico States a little bit more calm. A little bit more tranquility and that leads to more people coming over, which leads to more sales.

O'DOWD: And that is the heart of this election, according to Tony Zavaleta. He directs the Center for Border and Transnational Studies at the University of Texas, Brownsville.

TONY ZAVALETA: The election of the president is a referendum on who best can return Mexico to normal.

O'DOWD: Zavaleta says normalcy is important to the psyche of the entire border community; it's not just businesses with ties to both countries. Its Americans, like him, who see Mexico as a second home, as a place where friends and families live.

ZAVALETA: We live with one foot in each country all the time. I know it can get better. We have to hope that this election will set it on the right track to getting better.


O'DOWD: More than a thousand miles to the west, in Nogales, Arizona, a line of commercial trucks rumbles toward the Mariposa crossing.

Trucks like these are a common sight in this desert border town. Nearly five billion pounds of grapes, peppers, tomatoes and other fresh produce moved through last year. Some of it belonged to Gerardo Ritz. His family owns farms in the Mexican State of Sinaloa. Ritz runs the business side from Arizona. With literally a foot in both worlds, Ritz also closely watches the security debate in Mexico.

GERARDO RITZ: It's something that makes our business pretty much stay in business, and keeps us, as an American entity, investing in Mexico.

O'DOWD: Ritz says military checkpoints on Mexican highways keeps his produce safe on its journey north. He credits Calderon's offensive against the cartels. And he expects Mexico's next president to keep it up.

RITZ: We don't want to see organized crime getting into the produce business. In my opinion, whoever runs the country for the next six years has got to continue.

O'DOWD: As a Mexican national, Ritz won't say which candidate he'll vote for July 1st. But on Election Day, he'll be like many others in the U.S. looking south toward Mexico.

For NPR News, I'm Peter O'Dowd.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter O'Dowd