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Mexico's mission: Bridge the divide

The big picture made clear by Mexico's election is that the country is bitterly divided along class lines.

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Hundreds of thousands of supporters have been mobilized by the runner-up in Mexico's July 2 presidential election who has undermined his legal appeal – to be decided by Sept. 6 – by threatening nonrecognition of the winner if each and every ballot is not recounted.

As the increasingly acrimonious controversy over Mexico's July 2 presidential election passes from tallying votes to the electoral court (and to the streets), the debate over the vote count distracts attention from the big picture. Mexico is bitterly divided along class lines, and the 2006 vote distribution makes this clearer than ever.

All of Mexico anxiously awaits the electoral court's final declaration regarding appeals by left-leaning Andrés Manuel López Obrador (commonly referred to as AMLO), who lost to right-leaning Felipe Calderón by approximately 0.5 percent of the vote. The lesson of this cliffhanger is that Mexico's red-blue divide has worsened over a decade of uneven economic growth.

With few exceptions, urban, globalized, and affluent northern Mexico, including economic hubs Monterrey and Guadalajara, went for Mr. Calderón's blue-logo National Action Party (PAN), while the poor center and south chose Mr. López Obrador's gold and red-flagged Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). AMLO won Mexico City, where he served as mayor until last year, its suburbs (Mexico State), and the rural south.

The gaping geographical breach represents a much deeper class breach, even than the US red-blue gap. Northern Mexico's standard of living approaches that of South Korea, whereas southern Mexico's approaches Turkmenistan. Belying claims of a post-NAFTA boom, most Mexicans are barely better off today than in the mid-1990s, and they are worse off, in absolute terms, than before the early 1980s economic crisis. Nearly half of Mexico's 110 million citizens, predominantly in AMLO's rural center and south, live in poverty, and extreme poverty among this group has recently worsened.

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