Mexico’s president tries to change country’s name

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president is making one last attempt to get the “United States” out of Mexico — at least as far as the country’s name is concerned.

The name “United Mexican States,” or “Estados Unidos Mexicanos,” was adopted in 1824 after independence from Spain in imitation of Mexico’s democratic northern neighbor, but it is rarely used except on official documents, money and other government material.

Still, President Felipe Calderon called a news conference Thursday to announce that he wants to make the name simply “Mexico.” His country doesn’t need to copy anyone, he said.

Calderon first proposed the name change as a congressman in 2003 but the bill did not make it to a vote. The new constitutional reform he proposed would have to be approved by both houses of Congress and a majority of Mexico’s 31 state legislatures.

However, Calderon leaves office on Dec. 1, raising the question of whether his proposal is a largely symbolic gesture. His proposal was widely mocked on Twitter as a ridiculous parting shot from a lame-duck president.

Calderon said that while the name change “doesn’t have the urgency of other reforms,” it should be seen as a relevant issue. “Mexico doesn’t need a name that emulates another country and that no one uses on a daily basis,” he said.

The United States looms larger than perhaps any other country in the Mexican cultural imagination: Mexicans follow U.S. sports teams, watch U.S. television shows and buy U.S.-made products. For many, however, there is also resentment of a larger and more powerful northern neighbor that’s often seen as ignoring or looking down its nose at Mexico.

Calderon has tried to keep Mexico’s international image, and its vital tourism industry, from being tarred by the waves of violence set off by his six-year, militarized offensive against drug cartels. At least 47,500 people have died in cartel-related violence during his term in office, although the number is believed to be far higher, since his administration stopped releasing an official count last year.

A poll released this week by the Vianovo consulting firm said that half of all Americans view Mexico unfavorably and more than 70 percent believe it’s unsafe to travel south of the border. The poll of 1,000 adults had a margin of error of four percentage points.

“It’s time for Mexicans to return to the beauty and simplicity of the name of our country, Mexico,” Calderon said. “A name that we chant, that we sing, that makes us happy, that we identify with, that fills us with pride.”

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