COLIMA, Mexico — Soledad Castillo has a list of grave problems she wants Mexico's next president to solve. Low salaries. Rising crime. Poverty.
But a different issue was troubling the 41-year-old cleaning woman one recent morning as she attended a campaign rally in this city in southwestern Mexico. It was something more urgent, more sinister--an evil that has aroused Mexicans nationwide in an extraordinary political backlash.
Daylight saving time.
"They say we'll save energy. But we don't save any. We have to get up earlier and turn on the lights. The bill stays the same," Castillo fumed at a rally for Francisco Labastida, candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in the July presidential election.
"Maybe they benefit," she added, gesturing toward unseen dark forces, presumably in the government. "We sure don't."
Like Castillo, millions of Mexicans are in open rebellion against daylight saving time. The change, which took effect today as most of America also moved its clocks forward an hour, has spurred grass-roots protests, marches and petition drives. A dozen Mexican state governments have denounced the time change. Officials in so many cities have suggested flouting it that the federal government has warned of potential chaos.
To Americans, daylight saving time might seem innocuous. But in a country fed up with economic and corruption scandals, it has emerged as a symbol of obscure government decisions that benefit a powerful few at the expense of the majority.
"This is a reflection of the lack of credibility of the governing party," said Jose Antonio Crespo, a political scientist. "Many government decisions aren't perceived in a rational way. People think, 'If it's from the government, it has to be bad.' "
Mexico introduced daylight saving time, known here as the summer timetable, in 1996 by presidential decree. The reasons seemed straightforward: This energy-strained country would conserve power and be on the same schedule as the U.S., its main trading partner.
But opposition to the measure has been building steadily. This year, as the election approaches, daylight saving time has exploded into a political battle. Half a dozen states have organized plebiscites on whether to implement it. Mexico City, which is governed by the opposition Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, even tried to ban the time change.
To opponents, this is not just a 60-minute, bedside-clock issue. No, fighting the time change is a Jeffersonian thrust at federal power, a strike at the very heart of Mexico's tradition of strong central rule.
"This is a sign people are tired of centralized decision-making, in which the president decides everything," Mexico City Mayor Rosario Robles told foreign correspondents last week. "People are rebelling."
Taken aback, the national government is scrambling to persuade citizens that the time change is a scientifically valid measure practiced in more than 70 countries, not a nefarious bureaucratic plot.
At news conferences and on television and radio programs, officials have been repeating the benefits of moving the hour ahead to take advantage of the summer evening light. They note the energy saved in the past four years in Mexico is enough to power the country's 19.6 million homes for seven weeks.
They warn that abandoning the measure could lead to blackouts or worse.
If cities boycotted the time change, "it would affect industries, shops, tourism and financial services, generating a problem of social harmony and anarchy," said Mauricio Toussaint, an assistant energy minister, at a news conference. Federal authorities say everyone has to comply with daylight saving time.
The government has blamed the uproar on opportunistic politicians. But the clamor is so strong that even Labastida, the ruling party candidate, has promised to limit daylight saving time to four months instead of six. The issue has managed to push the presidential race, and weightier campaign issues such as poverty or crime, off the front pages in recent days.
Behind the grass-roots rebellion are some practical concerns. For example, parents complain that children will have to walk to school in the dark for the next few weeks.
Much of the criticism, though, reflects widespread suspicion of the government and its supposed cronies. Many critics have accused authorities of imposing the measure to benefit moguls who trade with Wall Street.
Some also suspect American imperialism. A citizens group in the southern state of Quintana Roo, for example, has been handing out fliers insisting that daylight saving time "is a foreign measure."
A poll published Wednesday by the Mexico City daily Reforma found that 63% of respondents rejected the government's explanation that the change produces an energy savings.
In the barrage of worried debate, doctors also have warned that daylight saving time could increase neuroses and aggressiveness in citizens.
But perhaps the most bizarre argument against the time change came from Felix Salgado, a left-wing congressman. He told the Mexican parliament last week that marital relationships were in jeopardy.
While many couples have sex at night, he said, "others make love when they wake up, the so-called mananero. But now when you wake up, your partner is no longer there, because she had to take the kids to school."
"This affects us in every way," he concluded gravely. "The PRD legislative group is foursquare against this arbitrariness."