Flooding Fuels Political Storm in Mexico

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Bad weather forecast for Mexico’s Pacific coast could signal a period of even stormier conditions for the country's ruling party. As they braced for Tropical Storm Irwin’s arrival, Mexicans in different parts of the country took to the streets Monday to protest the government’s handling of recent flooding that killed at least 300 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. "Mexicans are traditionally extremely respectful of their president, in part because of the country’s authoritarian history," says TIME Latin America bureau reporter Ron Buchanan. "But President Zedillo has been subjected to some harsh criticism, and has even experienced some unpleasantness on the streets as he’s gone around flood-hit areas."

The leader of the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, has slammed the government’s failure to adapt infrastructure to minimize loss of life in flooding – although the reaction of the center-right opposition National Action Party has been more muted. The real problem for the ruling party, which faces its toughest test yet at the polls next year, may be the poverty that the flooding will amplify. "Even if the government had been more efficient in getting the flood-hit areas cleaned up, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to compensate for the loss of livestock and crops that threatens the livelihood of already impoverished people," says Buchanan. "Restoring any sort of normal life in those areas is a huge challenge, and the resulting discontent may make things difficult for the ruling party in the next election."