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Mexico City Awakes To Changing Guard

July 4, 2000

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (AP) _ Cesar Taboada Ortega couldn’t stop smiling Monday morning.

In gleaming shoes and thick spectacles, the retired government stenographer peddled defunct Mexican currency a few blocks from the U.S. bridge.

``The past was one history,″ said Taboada, 70. ``Today another history begins.″

Vicente Fox, a presidential candidate for the opposition National Action Party (PAN), did something Sunday that long seemed impossible: He defeated the ruling party. After 71 years of unbroken presidential authority, the Institutional Revolutionary Party lost the national elections.

``Fox wins!″ proclaimed banner headlines on the border. The chatter of talk radio poured to the sidewalks from open car windows. On city benches and stoops, workers passed newspapers from hand to hand.

As Nuevo Laredo creaked to life Monday morning, everything was different, and everybody knew it.

The scenery hadn’t changed much: Water still exploded from fountains; the drivers on the bridge honked and hollered; shoppers gnawed on wads of gum and heckled over pottery in the cool stone markets.

It takes a lot to make a ripple in a border city marked by constant movement.

Still, optimism and curiosity ran high in Nuevo Laredo, a city that has traditionally thrown its support to the ruling party.

Even Jesus Lopez, a staunch PRI supporter who sells cowboy hats to U.S. tourists, offered a begrudging grin at word of the election results.

``Look, I voted for (PRI candidate Francisco) Labastida, and they defeated us,″ he said, crouching beside his booth, a newspaper spread before him. ``But who knows? Maybe change will be a good thing. Maybe the violence and the corruption will get better.″

``Of course things will,″ interrupted Maria Perez, 63, a San Luis Potosi native who moved to Laredo four years ago. ``After 71 years of people dying of hunger, you should be celebrating.″

Nobody in Nuevo Laredo questions the need for public policy revision: In a city spilling over with migrants who’ve left their homes in search of work in northern factories, or who await a chance to cross the border into the United States, the desire for reform has long been thick.

``I came here because there are no resources at home,″ said Fernando Flores Belmont, a 24-year-old mechanic who drifted north from Mexico City in search of work. ``Here, there’s a little bit more _ just a little bit.″

Flores dallied beneath the ebonies in Nuevo Laredo’s downtown plaza Monday morning, perusing the newspaper headlines.

``It’s always the PRI, always,″ he said. ``I never thought this could happen.″

And as the streets grew hotter, a sliver of uncertainty edged the air.

``You can’t just change everything at eight o’clock in the morning,″ said pharmacist Victor Vela. ``I hope the new government knows what it’s doing.″

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