By Anthony L Hall
That is, as much as they voted for him to combat violence and corruption.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won Mexico’s presidency in a landslide victory on Sunday, setting the stage for the most left-wing government in the country’s democratic history. …
Pledging to eradicate corruption and subdue drug cartels with a less confrontational approach, Lopez Obrador will carry high expectations into office, while his efforts to reduce inequality will be watched closely by nervous investors.
(Reuters, July 1, 2018)
The best way to put this shift in Mexico’s leadership into context is to allude to the seismic shift the Catholic Church made in 2013 when it elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — who became Pope Francis. As it happens, Obrador (a.k.a. AMLO) is every bit as charismatic as Francis and intends to revolutionize Mexican politics every bit as much as Francis “intended” to reform Church practices.
Truth be told, though, unless you’re among the elite who live in gated communities and drive around in armed and armored motorcades, you really had no reason to vote for candidates from the two political parties that have ruled Mexico for the past 84 years, namely the International Revolution Party (PRI) 1934-2000 and 2012-2018, and the National Action Party (PAN) 2000-2012.
After all, thanks to them, life in far too many parts of this country is no different from life in more violent and corrupt regional “shitholes” like El Salvador and Honduras. I lamented this in such commentaries as “Kidnappings in Mexico as Ordinary as Gun Violence in America,” November 21, 2014.
Except that Obrador has been running for president as a socialist godsend for 18 years, to no avail. And this is hardly the first time violence and corruption have been defining issues. I commented on the first of his quixotic campaigns, as leader of his newfound Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), in “The Fat Lady Is Singing for Mexico’s López Obrador,” August 30, 2006.
But the (orange) elephant in the race this time was President Donald J. Trump. Specifically, because he is treating Mexicans with the kind of hostility nobody has ever imagined, let alone seen.
It was shocking enough that Trump premised his presidential campaign on building a border wall. But he has now ordered border agents to rip children from the arms of parents who dare cross that border illegally. I decried this in “Separating Immigrant Children from Their Parents. This Is America … Too!” June 20, 2018.
This is why it was so shrewd for Obrador to cast himself as the anti-Trump. Because this alone must have compelled many Mexicans to vote for him — if only as a matter of national pride. Indeed, Obrador’s “Mexico First” agenda rivals Trump’s “America First” agenda.
He even matched Trump’s (idle) threat to tear up NAFTA — in this case, to make it better for Mexican workers. Not to mention his bombastic and politically incorrect rhetoric, which often made Trump seem civil.
More importantly, like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez before him, Obrador is championing the kind of democratic socialism I admire. Imagine what the United States would be like today if Americans had elected Bernie Sanders instead of Donald Trump in 2016 — and I’m alluding to politics and policies not temperament and tweets.
Unfortunately, it did not take long before I was decrying the mockery Chávez was making of democratic socialism — as commentaries from “Bolivia’s Woes Expose Chávez’s Socialist Counter-Revolution as Little more than a One-Man, Three-Ring Circus,” September 7, 2006, to “Chávez’s Chavismo: More Robbing Hoodlum than Robin Hood,” August 12, 2015, and “Venezuela Finally Awakens from Chavismo Dream,” December 9, 2015, attest.
I fear that, like Chávez, Obrador is fated to fail when it comes to eradicating corruption, alleviating poverty, and reducing inequality.
Not that he’ll be misguided by the kind dictatorial or messianic ideations that doomed Chávez, mind you. Obrador will find Constitutional and Congressional constraints, which protect the vested interests of the establishment, vexing enough.
But he will find it nearly impossible to fulfill his signature promise to combat the violence that is driving so many Mexicans to cross the border. Not least because his quixotic nature is such that Obrador thinks he can strike the kind of peace deal with Mexico’s thriving drug cartels that President Santos struck with Colombia’s beleaguered FARC guerillas.
Incidentally, Colombians not only rejected that deal in a referendum, but they elected Ivan Duque just weeks ago (on June 18) — who is as committed to tearing up that FARC peace deal as Trump was to tearing up the Iran nuclear deal. I decried their misguided vote for continuing warfare in “What the FARC! Colombians Reject Landmark Peace Deal,” October 4, 2016.
But it speaks volumes that the cartels have killed more Mexicans over the past 10 years (with virtual impunity) than the more than 50,000 Americans the Viet Cong killed over 20 years in Vietnam. And it behooves Obrador to appreciate that over 130 politicians were among the 29,000 the cartels killed just last year.
Actually, in some respects, Obrador will be able to commiserate with Trump — who is finding it equally impossible to fulfill his signature promise to build a wall to prevent illegal immigration across the US-Mexico border. Of course, Trump could also tell him how vexing it will be to renegotiate NAFTA to increase benefits for the Mexican workers who form his base.
Frankly, it would not surprise me if, at the end of Obrador’s one, six-year term, Mexico looked much like the violent, corrupt, and bankrupt basket case Venezuela is today. As indicated above, different forces will conspire to make it so. But to see what Obrador’s presidency portends, I refer you to “Venezuela’s Death Spiral of Recession, Protest, and Repression,” April 24, 2017.
For now, though, the looming Mexican standoff between Obrador and Trump will animate hemispheric politics. And Trump’s unpopularity is such that I suspect as many Americans as Mexicans want to see Obrador win it.
* This commentary was originally published at The iPINIONS Journal on Monday, July 2