Over the past six years, Calderón's conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) has meanwhile presided over an economic model lauded by the Bretton Woods institutions and Financial Times editorials – i.e. high growth rates, big booty for foreign investors, and (this bit is kept quiet) yawning inequality. For example, the country's growth was 5.5 per cent in 2010, the highest in 10 years, but that same year the number of Mexicans living in poverty grew by more than 3m, putting 52m Mexicans below the poverty line, or nearly half the population. The Financial Times calls such a state of affairs "bloody but booming".
There is only one candidate standing in the presidential elections on Sunday that can reverse, or at least attenuate, the nightmare many Mexicans – mostly the poor and destitute – have been living through over the past six years, and before. His name is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO to his supporters, who is a sort of Ken Livingstone figure here in Mexico City. A life-long leftist and battler for the poor, AMLO has a sterling record on enacting liberal social reforms and economic justice. His five-year spell as Mayor of Mexico City saw him pass a raft of liberal and politically courageous pieces of legislation, including legalizing abortion and gay marriage (both firsts in Latin America at the time). To understand how brave such gambits were consider that Mexico is still a traditional and devout Catholic country. He also enacted economic programs which transferred cash to some of the capital’s most desperate people – the homeless, single mothers, abused women, amongst others. Such progressive reforms have therefore made him many powerful enemies in the country's economic oligarchy and media elite.
But while the local imperial power alongside the native oligarchy push for Nieto, there remains hope – the powers that be still cannot control the Mexican 99 per cent, which is a highly-engaged population. A large-scale student movement, called Yo Soy 132, has been building over the past month and has helped AMLO rise exponentially in the polls. Some have already been calling it a "Mexican Spring", with big protests (and disruptions at Nieto's gatherings) commonplace now, and there is no doubt of its impact. A poll this month by Reforma – one of the biggest newspapers in Mexico – put AMLO just 4 percentage points behind Nieto. To understand how significant that is consider that just three months before, in March, in the same poll AMLO was 23 percentage points behind his nearest rival. In the last election, in 2006, AMLO lost by just 1 percentage point to Calderón, in what some say was a fraudulent result. But the next six years of Mexican history may be be even more critical for its long-term future, there is much to repair and heal. For this reason, only AMLO can save Mexico.
Matt Kennard is the author of Irregular Army How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gangs, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror (coming in September 2012)