KDAQ Repairs:

1:55am

Wed June 6, 2012
Latin America

Female Presidential Candidate Blazes Trail In Mexico

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 11:07 am

When Mexicans go to the polls on July 1 to choose their next president, a woman will be among the candidates, the first from a major political party. She belongs to the National Action Party — or PAN — the party of current President Felipe Calderon.

On a recent visit to the Mexican border city of Juarez, Josefina Vazquez Mota steps onto a catwalk that juts into the center of a long banquet hall crammed with table after table of women. When she speaks, they cheer.

It's Vazquez Mota's first official campaign visit to Ciudad Juarez, but she is no stranger to the city. It's where she got her start in politics as a federal representative for a cluster of northern Mexican states. She visited Juarez at a time when foreign factory jobs were drawing in thousands of women from across Mexico.

"The women of Juarez are tireless fighters; they are courageous," Vazquez Mota tells them.

New Role Model

Some of that must have rubbed off on her. Vazquez Mota, 51, says her experience in northern Mexico was empowering. She is an economist who most recently served as secretary of education under Calderon.

Although happily married, Vazquez Mota wrote a best-selling book with an eyebrow-raising title, Dear God, Please Make Me A Widow. The book urges women to take initiative in their lives. Now, playing off that title, she carries campaign posters that say, "Dear God, Please Make Me President."

Outside the banquet hall the crowd pulses with girl power. A gang of female bikers poses for pictures beside their motorcycles. They're wearing leather vests imprinted with Vazquez Mota's image.

One woman standing by is Alejandra Marquez. A young architect who is visibly pregnant, with her second child, she's also a fan of Vazquez Mota.

"I think she's a good role model. She can be a very good leader for the country. We are proud that she's a woman," Marquez says.

Uphill Battle In Calderon's Shadow

Like most people in Mexico, Marquez's top concern this election is security. Calderon has led an unprecedented offensive against the country's powerful drug cartels.

But six years into the fight, more than 50,000 people have died and violence continues to spread across the country. Vazquez Mota has tried to distance herself from Calderon with the slogan "Josefina is different." She has pledged to crack down on government corruption.

Tony Payan, who teaches political science across the border in El Paso, Texas, agrees with Vazquez Mota. "I think part of the problem is that we have not fought corruption. We have to go after the politicians," Payan says. "And in the last few speeches that she has given, she has made it very clear that it's about going after corrupt politicians who collaborate with organized crime."

The campaign has proved an uphill battle for Vazquez Mota. After a strong start, the latest poll shows her in third place. The front-runner in the race is Enrique Peña Nieto, who belongs to the PRI — the party that ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years, from 1929 to 2000.

Still, about 25 percent of Mexicans say they're undecided, while protests by young voters may continue to shift the popularity of all four candidates in the race.

Copyright 2012 KJZZ-FM. To see more, visit http://kjzz.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Mexico is about a month away from choosing its next president. And among the leading candidates is a woman, the first ever to run for a major political party in Mexico. She belongs to the National Action Party, the same party as the current president. Monica Ortiz Uribe of member station KJZZ has this profile.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: Her name is Josefina Vazquez Mota. She's a petite woman with a surprisingly husky voice. On a recent visit to the Mexican border city of Juarez, she steps onto a catwalk that juts into the center of a long banquet hall crammed with table after table of women. When she speaks, they cheer.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Josefina. Josefina. Josefina. Josefina.

URIBE: This is Vazquez Mota's first official campaign visit to Ciudad Juarez, but she is no stranger to this city. It's here that she got her start in politics as a federal representative for a cluster of northern Mexican states. She visited Juarez at a time when foreign factory jobs were drawing in thousands of women from across Mexico.

JOSEFINA VAZQUEZ MOTA: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: The women of Juarez are tireless fighters. They are courageous, Vazquez Mota says.

Some of that must have rubbed off on her. She says her experience in northern Mexico was empowering. Vazquez Mota is an economist who most recently served as secretary of education under current president Felipe Calderon.

Although she is happily married, Vazquez Mota wrote a best-selling book with an eyebrow raising title, "Dear God, Please Make Me a Widow." The book urges women to take initiative in their lives. Now, playing off that book's title, she carries campaign posters that say, "Dear God, Please Make Me President."

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE REVVING)

URIBE: Outside the banquet hall, the crowd pulses with girl power. A gang of lady bikers pose for pictures beside their motorcycles. One women standing by is Alejandra Marquez. She's a young architect, visibly pregnant with her second child. She's also a fan of Vazquez Mota.

ALEJANDRA MARQUEZ: I think she's a good role model. She can be a really good leader for the country. We're proud that she's a woman.

URIBE: Like most people in Mexico, Marquez's top concern this election is security. President Calderon has led an unprecedented offense against the country's powerful drug cartels. But six years into the fight more than 50,000 people have died and violence continues to spread across the country.

Vazquez Mota has tried to distance herself from Calderon with the slogan "Josefina is Different." She has pledged to crack down on government corruption. Tony Payan teaches political science across the border in El Paso. He agrees with Vazquez Mota.

TONY PAYAN: I think part of the problem is that we have not fought corruption. We have to go after the politicians. And in the last few speeches that she has given she has made it very clear that it's about going after corrupt politicians who collaborate with organized crime.

URIBE: The campaign has proved an uphill battle for Vazquez Mota. The latest poll shows her in third place. Still, about 25 percent of Mexicans say they're undecided, while protests by young voters may continue to shift the popularity of all four candidates in the race. And a robust election discussion on social media could mean there's still room for surprises one month before Mexicans go to the ballot box.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe reporting from Ciudad Juarez.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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