MEXICO CITY -- In a spate of self-reflection engendered by election season, Mexicos politicians are repeatedly taking public measure of their nation against Brazil, a perennial rival in Latin America, and finding themselves coming up short.
They are moving so fast ahead that we dont even see the dust from behind, former President Vicente Fox told a group of foreign correspondents last week.
The two most populous nations of Latin America have long jockeyed for hemispheric clout. Both are global diplomatic players, beacons of culture and regional economic engines, from samba, soccer and aircraft production in Brazil to margaritas, Mayan ruins and automotive plants in Mexico.
Yet as Brazil claimed the United Kingdoms spot this year as the worlds sixth largest economy, its sustained economic rise has left Mexicans whose country has the worlds 13th largest feeling marginalized.
In a two-hour debate Sunday, four presidential candidates who are competing in the July 1 presidential election brought up comparisons to Brazil to illustrate how Mexico lags.
Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, an ecologist whos running for the New Alliance Party, called for the national oil company, Petroleos de Mexico, to open up to foreign investment as Brazils semipublic company, Petrobras, has successfully done. He also asserted that Brazil graduates two or three times more physicians in relation to its population than Mexico does.
The distant front-runner in pre-election polls, Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, flayed President Felipe Calderon for presiding over lackluster economic growth.
We are the country in Latin America that grows the least, and other countries like Brazil, like Colombia, like Peru have grown two or three times the rate of Mexico, Pena Nieto said.
Mexicos pessimism is partly due to an economic slump and public security woes that monopolize headlines. But scholars say Mexicos angst may be more of a subject for a psychoanalysts couch than a cold look at comparative situations.
While Mexicos mayhem from organized crime shapes perceptions, Brazils homicide rate is higher. In a study released in October, the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime put Brazils homicide rate at 22.7 per 100,000 people, well above Mexicos rate of 18.1.
Further, Mexicos economy, dragged down by the U.S. recession, is forecast to grow at 3.8 percent this year, similar to Brazils projected growth.
Theres always been a rivalry, and theres always been a certain amount of jealousy, said Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister.
Brazil looks forward to showcasing itself as the host of the 2014 World Cup in soccer and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Brazilian tourists, their wallets filled with a strong currency, crowd foreign airports.
In the shorthand for its clout, Brazil is the leadoff member of the BRIC countries Brazil, Russia, India and China deemed to symbolize the shift in global power from established developed economies.
While not always successful, Brazils diplomats have sought a voice in matters as far afield as the Iranian nuclear crisis and the fate of Palestinians.
For now, Brazil surely has more weight and influence in global affairs, said Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research center in Washington.