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The leading candidate for the Mexican presidency painted a depressing picture of Mexico in a speech before the country's private sector financial leaders Friday, describing Mexico's economic performance as "mediocre" and its image as tarnished by violence.
Enrique Pena Nieto, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, told bankers assembled for their annual convention in Acapulco that the Mexican economy should have grown three times more than it did in recent years.
"Mexico is not on the right track," he said, saying the country has had average annual economic growth of around 2% in recent years.
The tone of the presentation contrasted sharply with that of Bank of Mexico Governor Agustin Carstens, who on Thursday told the same group that the country's sustained growth in recent years was "notable," given the troubled state of the global economy.
Mexico is en route to post its third consecutive year of economic expansion, with the central bank projecting that gross domestic product will grow by nearly 4% after having grown 3.9% in 2011 and 5.5% in 2010, following a 6% contraction in 2009.
Josefina Vazquez Mota, the presidential candidate of the ruling conservative National Action Party, or PAN, defended the country's recent economic performance, saying conditions of stability and confidence make it a great moment to invest in Mexico.
"We have a robust situation. Mexico has been growing with no end in sight over the last three years, with combined growth of 15%," Vazquez Mota said, also making reference to this week's report that GDP grew 4.6% in the first quarter from a year ago.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of a left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, said Mexico is among countries that have had the least growth in recent years. He called on bankers to lower their fees, which he said are four times those charged in other countries.
Pena Nieto was critical of lending levels to the private sector, saying that credit extended by Mexican banks represents just 25% of the country's GDP compared with 57% in Brazil and 86% in Chile.
He also voiced disapproval over subsidiaries of foreign banks sending capital back to their parent companies outside Mexico; units of Spanish banks Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA) and Banco Santander SA (STD), and a subsidiary of U.S.-based Citigroup Inc. (C), make up Mexico's three biggest banks with more than half the country's deposits.
Mexicans will vote for their next president on July 1. President Felipe Calderon, of the PAN, is constitutionally barred from re-election. Polling firm Mitofsky said earlier in the week that Pena Nieto remains the front-runner in the race with 46% of voter preferences in an average of six polls, compared with 26% for Vazquez Mota and 25% for Lopez Obrador.
Pena Nieto is a former governor of the State of Mexico, which includes a large part of Mexico City, the country's sprawling economic and political capital.
A Pena Nieto win in July would return the PRI to power after 12 years of rule by the PAN. Prior to 2000, the PRI held the Mexican presidency uninterrupted for 71 years.
-By Amy Guthrie, Dow Jones Newswires; (5255) 5980-5177; email@example.com