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Mexican Interest Groups Press Agendas During Obama Visit

An array of Mexican interest groups are mounting demonstrations to coincide with President Barack Obama's visit to the nation's capital Thursday to meet with President Felipe Calderon. Organizers of the demonstrations said their goal is not to protest Mr. Obama's presence in their country. Rather, they want to see progress between the United States and Mexico on issues ranging from immigration to trade concerns to environmental challenges.

For decades, "Fuera Yanqui!" or "Get Out, American!" has been a common refrain in Mexico whenever a U.S. president visits, an insult typically hurled by the country's far-left political sectors.

Former President George W. Bush's 2007 visit to Mexico sparked boisterous protests outside U.S. diplomatic installations. In the capital, crowds cheered when Mr. Bush was burned in effigy.

But if previous Mexican protests focused their ire squarely on President Bush, the same cannot be said of President Barack Obama.

On the eve of Mr. Obama's arrival, environmental activists unfurled a huge banner in a city square urging the U.S. and Mexican leaders to "save the climate" and "act now." Before Mr. Obama's arrival in Mexico City, immigrant-rights groups gathered in front of the U.S embassy to demand a resolution to the status of more than 12 million undocumented workers in the United States.

Absent from the demonstrations are traditional leftist political groups that bitterly protested against President Bush in the past.

On major boulevards in the city's center, one sees alternating U.S. and Mexican flags adorning each lamppost. What one does not see is graffiti or posters on walls denouncing President Obama.

In a coffee shop a few blocks from the U.S. embassy, retail store manager Lorena Montero said demonstrations coinciding with the Obama visit have a completely different tone than those of previous years during the Bush presidency.

She said that the anti-Bush protests were a rejection of him as a person. She added that, in President Obama, Mexicans see a charisma that is very different from the Bush persona.

But accountant Angela Chavez was more cautious in assessing President Obama.

She said that Mexico is receiving Obama cordially because the country does not really know him yet.

Human rights activist Enrique Cisneros also had a wait-and-see attitude towards President Obama, but said most Mexicans view him favorably.

He said there is goodwill in Mexico towards Mr. Obama because he is not the lecturing, petulant leader that President Bush was. He said Mexicans perceive Mr. Obama as a champion of those who are marginalized and excluded, and that Mexicans recognize the historic nature of Mr. Obama's election as America's first black president.

Political analysts in Mexico City said there is no doubt Mr. Bush's popularity in Mexico plunged to successively lower depths after he authorized the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and the extension of fences and barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But is it fair to compare George Bush's low approval ratings in Mexico after eight years in office with those of Barack Obama, whose administration is barely 3 months old? Political scientist Federico Estevez said no.

Estevez, who teaches at Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute (ITAM), noted Mr. Bush was also held in high regard by many Mexicans when he entered office.

"Bush was just as popular [as Obama] at the beginning. He made all the right moves in terms of symbolic statements, a visit to [former Mexican President Vicente] Fox's ranch. You saw a very close relationship between the leaders, and in the end it made no difference at all," he said.

Estevez said Mexico's political left finds itself in a quandry with President Obama, torn between a reflexive urge to protest any U.S. leader and a reluctance to tarnish the image of what they see as America's most progressive executive in decades.

Human rights activist Cisneros said he has no illusions about President Obama. He dismissed Mr. Obama's current popularity on the world stage as media-driven hype, saying he doubts the president's ability to bring about the changes he promised during last year's campaign.

Cisneros said, in the final analysis, it is not a single person who determines the politics of a country, especially a country with so much influence in the world as the United States.

Political scientist Federico Estevez said that whether or not President Obama is popular in Mexico is of no consequence. What matters is his political clout at home and whether he can uphold his end of agreements reached with President Calderon.