The vote, many residents say, is the worst kind of choice, between candidates and parties they don’t especially like or trust.
In the most violent quarter of Mexico, it is a vote based less on hope and more on fear. “We can’t survive like this forever,” said Jose Luis Sanchez, a businessman who has had to lay off two-thirds of his workforce in the past 18 months and worries constantly about the safety of his children. “We have to have laws.”
In today’s Mexico, stability and lawlessness coexist. While some cities remain safe, including heavily guarded tourist zones such as Cancun and Los Cabos, Mexico’s northern border towns and other drug-trafficking hubs rank among the most murderous places in the world.
Mexicans seem just as divided about the state of their country. A survey this month by the independent polling firm Buendia & Laredo found that a majority think Mexico is “on the wrong track.” But many members of the country’s expanding middle class remain upbeat about their personal prospects, with 59 percent saying their lives had improved or remained the same since Felipe Calderon became president in 2006.
Calderon and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, from the conservative, pro-business National Action Party, or PAN, have given Mexico nearly 12 years of economic stability and slow but steady growth. The financial shocks and wild peso devaluations of the 1990s and early 2000s were replaced by low inflation, booming trade, aerospace and automobile manufacturing, and the kind of balanced budgets the U.S. Congress can only dream of.
But Tampico is one of the places where the dark, scary Mexico is devouring the other one. In the nearly six years since Calderon declared war on the country’s drug mafias, the surrounding northern border state of Tamaulipas has become a cartel battlefield and a horror show, the scene of beheadings, mass graves and naked corpses left dangling from bridges. The port of Tampico and the highways and border crossings of Tamaulipas represent billion-dollar drug-smuggling routes to the United States.
Which is one reason that voters here appear ready to break with the current order and turn away from the ruling PAN party and its standard-bearer, Josefina Vazquez Mota, who is running third in a field of three major candidates.
Holding a double-digit lead in most voter surveys is Enrique Peña Nieto, the fresh face of the old political dynasty called the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ran Mexico from 1929 until 2000 with a firm authoritarian blend of cronyism and corruption that Nobel winner Mario Vargas Llosa called “the perfect dictatorship.”