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Kevin G. Hall, Tens of Thousands Rally in Mexico

Tens of Thousands Rally in Mexico

Leftist Obrador Leads Opinion Polls

Kevin G. Hall, Knight Ridder Newspapers

MEXICO CITY — Tens of thousands of Mexicans filled an ancient square
in this capital Sunday to hear leftist presidential frontrunner
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledge to distance himself from U.S.

While not naming the United States or the Bush administration, Lopez
Obrador, a fiery former mayor of Mexico City, made it clear that he
would return Mexico to its traditional foreign policy of
non-intervention in the affairs of its neighbors.

Conservative President Vicente Fox broke that tradition after taking
office in 2000 when he joined the United States in condemning the
lack of fundamental liberties in Cuba and elsewhere. Like U.S.
foreign policy, Mexico's under Fox sought to promote human rights and
civil liberties abroad.

That'll change, Lopez Obrador signaled to a crowd estimated between
70,000 and 120,000. Having led public opinion polls for two years,
Lopez Obrador is on track to become Mexico's first president elected
from a left-wing party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)."We're not going to meddle in the internal life of other peoples and
other governments, because we don't want them meddling in ours,"
Lopez Obrador told a sea of supporters in the Zocalo, the city square
that Spanish conquistadors built atop Aztec ruins.

That was a slap at the close relations between Fox and President
George W. Bush, and Lopez Obrador added that "the next president of
Mexico is not going to be the puppet of any foreign government."

The phrase was a dig at Fox, whom Cuban dictator Fidel Castro
famously called a "bootlicker" for mirroring the U.S. rights policy.

Many Mexicans reject closer foreign policy alignment with Washington,
and howled earlier this month when a Sheraton hotel in Mexico City
tossed out a visiting Cuban government delegation. The hotel was
trying to uphold the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba at the apparent
expense of Mexican anti-discrimination laws.

Just last year, it appeared Lopez Obrador might be banned from
running for president because of a municipal land dispute with the
courts and the Fox government. Now, if he wins on July 2, it will
bring to the U.S. doorstep a string of leftist victories across Latin
America. Elected left-leaning governments now rule Argentina,
Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and Chile.

The Bush administration has avoided comment on Mexico's electoral
debate, but Lopez Obrador on Sunday honed in on the thorny bilateral
relationship. He vowed to turn Mexico's 45 consulates in the United
States into "prosecutorial offices" that defend the rights of migrant
workers. U.S. anti-immigration efforts, including construction of a
wall at the Mexico border, have added to the defiant Lopez Obrador's
appeal here.

Although he rejects being labeled a populist, Lopez Obrador on Sunday
sounded like an old-style Latin American strongman. He pledged to
lower electric, gas and gasoline prices and vowed to end taxes on
food and medicine. He said he'd keep foreigners from investing in the
energy sector, yet said he'd make the sector "the gearshift for
economic development."

The presidential frontrunner also said he won't raise taxes, so it's
unclear how he'll pay for his promises. He did say he'd slash the
pensions of ex-presidents and cut salaries of cabinet secretaries.
Mexico's finance minister earns more than the U.S. treasury
secretary, he said.