James North, reporting from Mexico:
I´ve only been here three days, but I can see once again why Americans are so ill-informed about the rest of the world.
The news reports here have been filled with coverage of three gigantic demonstrations, attracting several hundred thousand people, one after another. But only one short paragraph about one made it into the August 31 New York Times. (I don´t even want to think about what the US TV networks reported on instead.)
The first demonstration, Light Up Mexico, filled the main streets inon Saturday evening with between 100,000 and 200,000 middle-class and even affluent people, dressed in white, protesting against the crime wave that has hit the country over the past few years. The kind of people that you would never see demonstrating in America marched with dignity up the Reforma and then east to the Zocalo, the giant public square. At 8:30 p.m. the bells in the centuries-old cathedral rang, and the multitude lit candles as a silent protest.
The New York Times article briefly mentioned the march, but only as part of a longer piece that left an impression that Mexicans are just passive victims of crime.
The next day, leftist parties staged a rally against the privatization of Pemex, the national oil company. The American press has barely covered this burning issue at all, except to suggest that romantically nationalistic Mexicans are standing athwart history and sentimentally blocking the progress that foreign investment could bring to their main industry. In fact, the anti-privatization forces have conducted serious studies suggesting changes to modernize the oil industry without turning key parts of it over to foreigners.
Whether the left is correct or not, the average person at that demonstration is much better informed about big economic issues that his or her counterpart in America.
Then, yesterday, there were more big demonstrations nationwide, as the unpopular rightist president, Felipe Calderon, delivered the Mexican equivalent of his State of the Union speech to Congress. Thousands of dissident teachers blocked the tollway down to Acapulco -- the local variant of the New Jersey Turnpike -- for hours. (Many Mexicans still believe that Calderon, a right-wing pro-American, stole the 2006 election -- a fact that got less coverage than the disputed elections in faraway Ukraine and Georgia, in which pro-U.S. forces were the ones who cried foul.)
Just before I left New York, I watched Barack Obama´s acceptance speech, and Al Hunt commented to Charlie Rose that Obama was the only candidate who could fill a stadium of 80,000 people. Well, Mexicans of all social classes turned out in greater numbers here for 3 days in a row.
You could argue that even though Mexico is our closest third world neighbor -- there are, after all, millions of Mexicans in the U.S. due mainly to the economic crisis here -- Americans don´t have time to follow every twist in Mexican political life.
But I think back to 1993, when the Clinton administration and its allies in big business devoted tremendous energy to promoting the"free trade" agreement. Then, the mainstream press treated us to long analyses of Mexico, and how NAFTA was going to transform it for the better. Then the agreement was passed, and Mexico fell off the radar screens.
I´ll leave the last word to the Mexican commentator John Ackerman, writing about our politics in the opinion magazine, Proceso: "The National Convention as an opportunity to design, discuss or announce a plan to govern, but instead converted it into a media spectacle in which spouses, brothers, brothers-in-law, children and even grandchildren took center stage. Analysis of the personal lives of Obama and of substituted for hoped-for political analysis. The whole process was characterized by the easy jokes and the tedious cliches that mark . . ."did not use its