Inside Mexico talks with Ana Maria Salazar
By Inside México Original Print Publication: September, 2007
Ana Maria Salazar is the Mexican-American host of "Imagen News," the only English-language nationwide daily radio program in Mexico. In her career, she has worked in the highest levels of government, serving as an attaché in the US embassy in Bogota and as an assistant secretary at the Pentagon in the Clinton administration.
INSIDE MÉXICO: How have the impact and importance of the expatriate vote changed over the past few years?
ANA MARIA SALAZAR: Part of the problem with Americans voting abroad is that the system was initially conceived for soldiers and military personnel. Most of the information came through the Pentagon. As communications have become more globalized and Americans abroad are more connected, people view their right to vote as much more important, even in state and local politics. As time goes by, especially with the divisiveness in the States right now, it’s being taken much more seriously. But there’s one big problem: it’s not easy to vote. The American voting system is already one of the most complex in the world – and this also applies to Americans voting abroad. How do you register? How do you get the ballot? How do you get the ballot back?
IM: How do candidates and parties woo voters?
AMS: Campaigns will be paying more attention to Mexico. We know it’s the biggest expatriate population. As more and more Americans move here and have roots in both countries, the ability to connect to voters abroad is becoming more important. But Americans here are more comfortable and they don’t join groups like in Europe, where they organize into these umbrella groups. So the question becomes how do you reach these Americans? The retirees are easy, but the rest are different. There are very few English media outlets. One would assume there would be English newspapers, TV stations, radio stations. They’re really scarce. If you can’t reach Americans through traditional outlets, it has to be done through the Internet. Campaign themes push ex-pats to get their ballots. One thing is the impression that this could be a really close election, which gets people interested. This time the big international issue will be Iraq, but it’s being dealt with from a national security perspective. Immigration is the other, but the way it’s going to be dealt with in the U.S. won’t get out the ex-pat vote. The issue that would work is Medicare. When will it be available to Americans abroad? It’s almost a choice now between retiring here or getting Medicare. Addressing that would be a catalyst for getting out the ex-pat vote. The others are border issues. Many dual nationals live in border states, and the ability to cross and secure the border is a huge issue. One other issue is taxes. If you vote, are you considered a resident of the state you voted in for tax reasons?
IM: How do you evaluate the candidates on issues that affect ex-pats in Mexico?
AMS: None of them have really talked about Mexico in a way that gets close to ex-pats. We’re not going to hear about issues that ex-pats want to hear about. Most ex-pats will end up voting on what affects their families and communities at home. Part of the interest in Mexico isn’t about ex-pat votes but how Mexican- Americans living in America sense the candidates feel about Mexico. They think, “How does this vote affect that constituency?” They’re looking at how their positions toward Mexico affect the Mexican-American vote.
IM: Which candidate do you support?
AMS: I haven’t decided. I worked with Bill Clinton, so my inclination would be to support Hillary. The Democratic Party is much closer to the way I think. It’s very early in the game. We’re a year and a half away and a lot can happen.
IM: How do Mexicans perceive American politics in general, and this campaign in particular?
AMS: There’s some confusion. Even a lot of Americans are confused! What makes it so interesting is that no candidate has the blessing of the current President. There has also been a clearcut strategy of distancing themselves from Bush’s policies. In Mexico, the fact that the immigration legislation couldn’t get out of the Senate is a reminder of the division of power in America. Mexicans now understand the President is not the king. There’s also this really global interest in Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They generate a lot of curiosity abroad, that people of very, very diverse backgrounds can run for President. To the rest of the world, it shows a dynamic of diversity in American politics. The whole process of selecting candidates is very confusing for Mexicans. In Mexico, it’s been very different so this stuff about states trying to choose earlier is all kind of bizarre to them.
IM: How will this election affect Mexico and Mexicans?
AMS: There’s a stereotype that Republicans are good for Mexico. Obviously, immigration has an enormous impact. Another important aspect is trade. What will the next President do about agricultural tariffs related to NAFTA? Even though it’s been overshadowed by the war on terror, the positions on the war on drugs are important. And, of course, the border issue.
Ana Maria Salazar, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the daily blog Mexico Today, mexicotodayblog.com. She is the author of two books and hosts the television program "Seguridad Total" on Channel 40.