QUERETARO, Mexico -- At a modern factory set amid cactus fields in this central Mexican city, workers wielding pneumatic tools carefully attach rudders, elevators and horizontal stabilizers to the aft fuselages of state-of-the-art jets.
The plant, owned by Canadas Bombardier Aerospace, the worlds third-largest civil aircraft manufacturer, embodies Mexicos growing industrial prowess and a vision of its future prosperous and modern, where workers and their families enjoy a standard of living befitting one of the worlds most populous countries, sitting next door to the worlds largest economic power.
But the image is far from the Mexico of today, and many here now wonder if it will ever be the Mexico of tomorrow.
Twelve years ago, Mexicans thought their country had been given a fresh start when, for the first time in seven decades, the political party that had been identified with a do-nothing bureaucracy, crony capitalism and a corrupt government lost its hold on the presidency. The defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known here as the PRI, opened the door, many hoped, to better government, fairer distribution of the countrys wealth, and a real start toward remaking Mexico into a booming nation of middle-class consumers, instead of its long-standing role as a source of cheap and often illegal migrant labor.
When Mexican voters go to the polls July 1, however, the PRIs candidate is all but certain to win, exiling from power the business-friendly National Action Party, the PAN, whose two terms in the presidency ushered in scant beneficial change. Instead, the optimism that pervaded Mexico when Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox took power in 2000 has turned into a persistent malaise, where a drug war filled with public executions and horrific beheadings is the overriding image.
Why this resource-rich nation has become trapped in low growth is a story of political paralysis where entrenched monopolies remain in control, the schools fail to educate, and the development policies all but enslave workers in a cycle of poverty that threatens to trap future generations as well.
For the United States, Mexicos future is more than just an idle curiosity. A booming Mexico could be an enormous boon for the United States as well. Its citizens would buy more U.S. products and services, demand better governance from their own leaders and not flee their country looking for better prospects north of the border.
Compared to the rest of the world, Mexico has essentially been at a standstill during the past 30 years, said a report issued in April, A New Vision for Mexico 2042: Achieving Prosperity for All, produced by Centennial Group International, a strategic consulting firm in Washington, and Mexico Evalua, a public policy think tank in Mexico City.
If Mexico takes bold steps to unleash its potential, striving to match the growth of successful Asian nations, the report said, it could aspire to become a country with an average per-capita income equivalent to that of Germany or France.
That means elevating per-capita annual output from $13,800 today to around $50,000 in 2042 in constant dollars, the report said. If Mexico muddles through with the kind of recent subpar growth that has been the norm, its per-capita output will reach a little less than $30,000, it added.
But getting there will require a complete retooling of the way Mexico operates, emphasizing opportunity for the 52 million of Mexicos 113 million people who live in poverty, instead of policies that enforce inequality and the lack of social mobility.