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Ads a window on Mexican political culture

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We are at the cusp of another election season in the U.S., and we will begin to face a constant barrage of candidate vs. candidate ads. If there is one thing that I hate about election season it is the political ads, which serve to jade the American public.

In the U.S. it is common during campaign season to see several ads from political candidates squeezed between favorite sitcoms, ball games and news programs. More and more, political ads have a negative slant with one candidate accusing the other of being dishonest and evil. Usually, creepy music accompanies the ads and the candidate being disparaged is shown in black and white or with an unsavory expression on his/her face.

People who live on the U.S.-Mexico border get bombarded by political ads from both the U.S. and Mexico. I like to listen to a classic rock station whose signal originates across the border in Juárez, Mexico. The format of this station is typical U.S. radio, with plenty of car commercials and bad jokes. Most Americans would never know that they are listening to a Mexican radio station until the English format is interrupted by political ads in Spanish from Mexico.

The Mexican political ads offer a lesson in the differences of the political systems and culture between the U.S. and Mexico. Imagine if you were listening to a U.S. radio station and a political ad is aired that expounds on the efficiency of the CIA and how this agency is successfully fighting for the safety of the U.S., and using government money to bring about a better America.

Or, what would you think if the U.S. House of Representatives ran a radio ad that stated the deep democratic commitment of this body and how it truly represents the people of the U.S.?

I imagine most Americans would be outraged that government agencies would buy ad space, funded with public funds, to toot their own horns. Most of us expect government agencies to do the jobs they are created to do without having to self-promote. However, this is exactly what occurs in the Mexican political sector. In contrast to the U.S. where ads specifically touting the Republican/Democratic parties or ruling administration are somewhat rare, in Mexico this is common. Listening to my radio station, I hear ads promoting the ruling political party or accomplishments and programs of federal agencies.

One Mexican political ad that seems to air on the radio every hour consists of an excited young lady saying in Spanish to her mother, “Mommy, mommy, the House of Deputies (Mexico’s version of the House of Representatives) listened to my ideas for improvement. My voice was heard and we are now going to have a better Mexico.” The ad ends with a broadcaster’s deep voice stating that the House of Deputies is working to provide a better future for Mexico.

An ad paid for by Mexico’s PAN party hypes the skills and abilities of a young political official who is fighting every day for Mexico in the House of Deputies. It touts his new and innovative ideas and how he hasn’t forgotten that Mexico is for Mexicans. At the end of the ad, his name is repeated by the broadcaster as an example of how the PAN is represented by politicians fighting for Mexico.

Another popular ad that has been airing recently talks about the Mexican Attorney General’s Office and how it is catching the drug lords in Mexico and ridding the country of corruption. The narrator’s voice states that Mexico doesn’t have to suffer crime and corruption, and can emerge a better nation for all Mexicans.

The ads are evidence that although Mexico is a democratic country, the nation is still very centralized in the way that it operates. It is common for the ruling party to spend money even during times when there are no political races to let the Mexican people know how great the party and its governmental divisions are. And it is customary for the general Mexican population to accept this practice.

In the old days, the PRI party, which ruled Mexico for 71 years, perfected these ads. In the 12 years that the PAN party has ruled Mexico, it has also learned to do this quite well.

I would like to see the reaction of the American public if Attorney General Eric Holder started purchasing ads talking about how his office has successfully prosecuted the drug gangs in the U.S. Or, what if the Obama administration paid for political ads promoting the fact that the federal government successfully assassinated Osama bin Laden?

The year 2012 will be a major federal election year in both the U.S. and Mexico. As 2011 comes to a close, those of us at the border will be ground zero for political ads from both countries.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at jerry@nmiba.com.

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