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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

One Village in Mexico Awaits Outcome Too

Politics: Vicente Fox's neighbors spruced up their town for a visit by their incoming leader and the U.S. president-elect. Now, the get-together looks doubtful.

November 14, 2000|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — To the ranks of those hanging in suspense over who will be the next U.S. president, add the 3,000 or so residents of San Cristobal.

The rural townsfolk have their own reason to care how the tense electoral drama turns out: They've been counting on hosting the U.S. president-elect next Monday as part of an annual commemoration of the Mexican revolution.

San Cristobal, in the central state of Guanajuato, is home to the ranch of Vicente Fox, whose history-making election in July as Mexico's first modern opposition president now seems almost humdrum compared to what is happening in the United States. Before voters marked a single ballot for the Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore, or his Republican rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush--or discovered just how complicated that could be--Fox extended invitations for the eventual winner to join him.

Although Fox aides now say the visit was never confirmed by either U.S. candidate, Mexican media played it up and some Fox lieutenants were describing it as a clear probability. Residents of San Cristobal spruced up the town and let their hopes soar.

Anticipation Turns to Uncertainty

Locals saw the visit as a chance to show off a slew of improvements--from fresh sidewalks and wrought-iron park benches to freshly painted building facades--and to enjoy the heady spectacle of having not one but two national leaders in their hamlet on the same day.

But giddy anticipation has given way to uncertainty. It is dawning on some that there may not be a U.S. president-elect by Monday.

"Whoever it is, it would be an honor," said Mercedes Angel, who works for a social service agency and sells souvenirs playing up Fox's roots. "All we can do is wait."

Angel, who is helping organize the festival, said in an interview from the town's only public telephone booth that many preparations are on hold. If it turns out that no VIPs will come to call, the town's parade, for example, will be moved up to Friday.

Angel, who is a neighbor of Fox's mother and refers to the Mexican president-elect by first name, at first said most San Cristobal residents seemed to favor a Bush visit. But she quickly thought better of it and offered a more diplomatic answer: Some prefer Bush, a similar number tilt toward Gore--not unlike the voters of Florida.

$700,000 Spent on Improvements

San Cristobal has been gussying up for weeks, to the tune of $700,000 since Fox's victory. In addition to the cosmetic improvements, drinking water has been extended to previously unserved areas. And local officials have proposed naming key streets after Fox, and after the dates of his election win, July 2, and swearing-in, scheduled for Dec. 1.

Local members of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party groused that the project was illegal and a work of hubris. But San Cristobal would not be the first Mexican town to enjoy a windfall for improvements after a favorite son was elected president.

Whether any dignitaries from the United States will lay eyes on the town--and when--remains to be seen.

"There was never any deal reached by the transition team with Gore or Bush," said Jorge Castaneda, a top international-affairs aide on the Fox transition team. "It was talked about . . . and in fact it's still possible."

He added: "The [residents] just went and did this on their own, probably as a way to get money to fix up the town."

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Times staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this story.

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