Presidential candidates come to Mérida, square off in final debate

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, candidate for the Mexican presidency for the MORENA party, waves as he leaves with his wife Beatriz Gutierrez, after Tuesday's third and final presidential debate at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya in Mérida. Photo: Luis Perez/AFP via Getty Images
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, candidate for the Mexican presidency for the MORENA party, waves as he leaves with his wife Beatriz Gutierrez, after Tuesday’s third and final presidential debate at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya in Mérida. Photo: Luis Perez/AFP via Getty Images

Mérida Yucatán — The four contenders for the presidency tussled one last time just over two weeks before the country’s general election.

The debate was held at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, and an exhibition hall — filled with Mayan relics and imagery — became a stage for the often hostile round-table exchanges.

Questions were focused on the economy, including trade. Asked what would be done if NAFTA talks collapsed, frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he would redirect the economy toward the internal market and revive the rural economy.

Four presidential candidates meet in Mérida’s Mundo Maya museum for a debate. Photo: INE

The collapse of the North American Free Trade Agreement would not be fatal for Mexico, he said.

“… Our country has a lot of natural resources, a lot of wealth,” he said.

Negotiations have reached a deadlock since the U.S. president imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico.

The debate was one of the last chances for the pack of trailing candidates to whittle down López Obrador’s double-digit lead. They hope to capture the 21.5 percent voters who are undecided or uncommitted.

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López Obrador came out unscathed from two prior debates and has double the support of No. 2-ranked Ricardo Anaya, who heads a right-left coalition, according to a nationwide Coparmex survey published earlier in the day.

Anaya accused the leftist frontrunner of handing out no-bid contracts when he was mayor of Mexico City.

“I am not a corrupt person like you,” López Obrador replied, referring to a real-estate scandal that has dogged Anaya. López Obrador again pledged to fund big spending projects by ending corruption.

Anaya held up a placard directing viewers to a website that was to back up his assertions. But the site was down and a spokeswoman for Anaya told Reuters that the site was probably under a cyber attack.

Anaya promised that as president he would guarantee every citizen a tablet or smartphone.

PRI candidate Jose Antonio Meade, who is running third in most polls, and independent hopeful Jaime Rodriguez, also baited López Obrador.

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Meade has been hobbled by his unwillingness to criticize the highly unpopular Peña Nieto.

Rodriguez made the most extreme proposals, such as ending most government hand-out programs.

“We have to make people work,” Rodriguez said. “There are a lot of lazy people in this country who are receiving” government aid.

The roundtable was moderated by Gabriela Warkentin, Carlos Puig and Leonardo Curzio, who presented questions that originated from the public.

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Sources: Reuters, AP

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