To round off our series on the foreign media’s coverage of the US presidential campaigns, we talk to Armando Guzmán of Mexico’s TV Azteca about crossed wires and counter immigration.
Armando Guzmán is the Washington bureau chief for TV Azteca, Mexico’s second-largest network. From his studio, with a view of Capitol Dome, he also reports for Azteca America, a growing network that targets Spanish speakers in the US. He joined Azteca in 2001 after 18 years reporting for Univision, the pioneering US Spanish-language network.
Monocle: You’ve covered every presidential election since 1988. Have you seen a difference in the courting of Latinos?
Armando Guzmán: Absolutely. When I started at Univision in the 1980s, we used to call government offices asking for interviews and people would laugh at us. People don’t laugh any more: now both candidates have very helpful Spanish-language spokespeople.
M: How do you report differently for a Latino American and Mexican audience?
AG: There is one thing I have in mind every time I report for Mexico. That is, I don’t want people in Mexico to misunderstand what is going on in the US. In Mexico, when we think about the US Marines, we still think about the invasion of the 1840s. But when we talk about the Marines on Azteca America, we think about our brothers, our fathers and our uncles. So we see that same event in two different ways.
M: Do you expect a significant difference in policy towards Mexico under an Obama or McCain presidency?
AG: There’s one thing that every Mexican will tell you: there’s a Democratic and Republican party, but only one policy. They don’t see the difference, the details between them. With Bush, there’s a sense of disappointment because everyone thought that he was going to be different.
M: In what way?
AG: More friendly, more open to Mexico. When he came to the presidency, he said the only foreign policy experience he had was with Mexico – so he said that Mexico would be his priority. Of course, things didn’t turn out that way, for the reasons we all know. And many people in Mexico feel the same as people in America: that this guy wasn’t good for the country.
M: John McCain is unusual for a Republican because of his relatively liberal approach towards immigration. Has that impressed Mexicans?
AG: No. When you’re burnt more than once, then you become very sceptical. Reagan promised to do something about immigration, so did Bush, then Clinton, then Bush again, and here we are, hoping that the next guy will do it. They hope that whoever comes in will be able to tackle the problem – to finally give some kind of solution.
M: Do you think either of the candidates could change it?
AG: One of the questions I ask the candidates is: what is going to give you the ability to change this if all the previous presidents haven’t been able to change it? This isn’t a problem with the presidency, this is a problem with Congress. In Congress, immigration is a punching bag they use to avoid facing the real problems. When you don’t have any answers about the economic situation, gas prices, Iraq, unemployment, instead of addressing those issues, you can say, “Ah, but the Mexicans are the biggest problem and we have to control immigration,” and everybody claps. In Mexico, everyone knows that immigration is used as a pretext.
M: Do people in Mexico see the immigration issue differently from your audience in the US?
AG: Yes. Mexicans in Mexico think, “What’s wrong with these people in the US? Why don’t they want our people there? We get Americans here and we welcome them and treat them like guests. Why isn’t that the case there?” We both speak Spanish, but sometimes it’s like people from earth talking to people from Mars.
M: Obama is planning a visit soon to Mexico. How do you think he will be received there?
AG: John McCain has already been to Mexico – he visited the Virgin of Guadalupe and did all the things he needed to do. Obama is going to be a novelty in Mexico and a lot of people are curious to see what he is, what he has in his head and what kind of project he has for a relationship with Mexico. People here are curious about how America is going to elect a black president. I had many friends who said to me, “So, of course it will be McCain,” just because the other guy was black. But now, more and more people are coming to believe that Barack Obama has a chance to be president.
M: Europeans are so enthusiastic about Obama. Is it not like that in Mexico?
AG: Not yet – they are cautious. The truth of the matter is that they don’t know him.
M: Who do you think will win?
AG: Conventional wisdom says that Obama is ahead [at the time of going to press, polls were split over who was in the lead], but I do not discount McCain at all. The polls show that so many voters are undecided.
The US and Mexico have a long, fraught relationship – they fought a war in the 19th century, and today the US is building a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out. Each country is too often seen by the other as a caricature. Mexicans are trying to sneak into America to steal jobs, while Americans are overbearing imperialists. But the two countries are stuck together: there are over 28 million people with Mexican heritage today living in the US (about six million of them illegally), and the US is by far Mexico’s most important trade partner, receiving about 87 per cent of Mexico’s exports and providing 77 per cent of Mexico’s imports.
TV Azteca is the second-largest television network in Mexico and the second-largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the world. It was established in 1994 when the Mexican government broke the state monopoly on broadcasting and sold off the state television company to private investors. The network that became Azteca was bought by Ricardo Salinas Pliego, the well-connected owner of a chain of home furnishings stores with an estimated €4.2bn fortune. It has six bureaux in the US, as well as bureaux in Paris, Rome, Bogotá, Madrid, Buenos Aires, San Salvador, Lima and Jerusalem. In 2001 it launched Azteca America, aimed at Spanish speakers in America, and today has 60 affiliates across the US and can be seen in 89 per cent of the country.