Mexico presidential hopeful rejects comparisons to Venezuela

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The current front-runner for Mexico’s 2018 presidential election on Sunday rejected comparisons of his leftist party to Venezuela’s socialist government, saying his movement was a Mexican-made revolution against rampant corruption.

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Former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has led early opinion polls for the 2018 election, supported by frustration with rising crime and corruption scandals that have battered the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Just last week, President Enrique Pena Nieto compared the 63-year-old to Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, suggesting Lopez Obrador could unleash economic chaos if he wins office.

“(They are) saying that if MORENA wins Mexico, it’s going to be like Venezuela. That’s a lie!” Lopez Obrador told a crowd of thousands of supporters who rallied at a monument in the nation’s capital.

“We’re not taking inspiration from any foreign government ... Neither Maduro, nor Donald Trump.”

Earlier this year, Pena Nieto’s PRI sought to brand Lopez Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) an ally of Venezuela. [nL1N1IX09K]

Analysts have compared Lopez Obrador’s populist appeal to that of Trump. While Trump blamed immigrants and free trade deals for declining incomes among working-class Americans, Lopez Obrador’s message is that corruption is keeping Mexicans poor.

“People are fed up with corruption,” Lopez Obrador said. “This is the cancer that we are going to end with our movement.”

In his annual state of the nation address on Saturday, Pena Nieto did not directly attack Lopez Obrador but he said Mexico faced the choice between backing his reforms, like the opening of the energy sector, that were “transforming” Mexico or “a model from the past that has failed.”

Lopez Obrador was the runner-up in Mexico’s past two presidential contests. A victory by him could mark a leftward shift in Latin America’s second-largest economy, where centrist technocrats have held sway for decades, and further complicate relations with top trade partner the United States.

Maduro’s government has been criticized by Washington, the United Nations and major Latin American nations for cracking down on protests and failing to allow the entry of foreign humanitarian aid to ease a severe economic crisis.

Critics of Lopez Obrador have long sought to depict him as an economic liability, likening him to Maduro’s fiery, late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, in previous runs for the presidency.

“Pena Nieto told pure lies. He says all these things, but it’s all corruption,” said 71-year-old Ana Maria Hurtado as she stood among the crowd at the Lopez Obrador rally.

Reporting by Noe Torres Frank and Jack Daniel; Writing by Michael O’Boyle; Editing by Phil Berlowitz