- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

MEXICO CITY — Aides to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador say that if elected next month, the leftist presidential candidate will govern more like Theodore Roosevelt — whose economic policies featured trust-busting and progressive taxation — than like Venezuelan firebrand Hugo Chavez.

The claim illustrates the extent that TV ads comparing Mr. Lopez Obrador to Mr. Chavez have hurt his campaign and compelled him to try to distance himself from the Venezuelan president.

But Adolfo Hellmund, a senior economic adviser to Mr. Lopez Obrador and likely candidate for a senior Cabinet post, insisted that he was dead serious.

Tax evasion is widespread in Mexico, especially among the wealthy, and Mr. Lopez Obrador has emphasized his intention to compel greater tax compliance.

“Theoretically, we have progressive taxation in Mexico, but in practice, we do not,” Mr. Hellmund said. “This cannot continue.”

Taxation absorbs only 9.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product — which Mr. Hellmund said was “almost African levels” — leaving the government fiscally very weak.

“The only reason we have not gone bankrupt is because of the high price of oil,” he said. Close to 50 percent of government revenues come from the state-owned oil company, Pemex.

Mr. Lopez Obrador campaigns as a populist, exciting his lower-class supporters but exposing himself to comparisons with Mr. Chavez from his main rival, Felipe Calderon, of the conservative National Action Party.

That comparison enabled Mr. Calderon to close a large gap between the two in the past month while stoking a climate of fear among wealthy Mexicans. The latest polls show a highly competitive race.

Mr. Hellmund acknowledged that the rich would pay more under a Lopez Obrador-led government.

“I think it is inevitable that these people will feel affected and that they will fight it, but unless they are affected, I don’t see how the country can move forward,” he said.

Roosevelt, who served as U.S. president from 1901 to 1909 as a Republican and subsequently ran unsuccessfully as head of his own Bull Moose party, “was not renominated by the Republican Party for more or less the same reason, and I don’t think he was a communist,” he said.

Previous Mexican governments have understood the economic drag created by monopolies in key sectors but have been politically unable to move against them, said Pamela Starr, an analyst with Eurasia Group, an investment advisory group in New York.

“If Lopez Obrador were to become president, he wouldn’t be able to touch some of the biggest monopolists” such as telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim Helu, whose net worth is listed by Forbes Magazine at $23.8 billion.

“It’s just impossible, they are just too powerful,” she said.

But Mr. Hellmund said Mr. Lopez Obrador was not interested in a “witch hunt … to go after the wrongs of the past.”

“The ideal thing would be for him to be Teddy Roosevelt — that’s what I would try to make him to become.”

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