Mexico: AMLO-Trump populist convergence?
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador—known by his initials AMLO—will be Mexico's next president, following his victory in the July 1 election. By any measure, this is historic—it is the first time a candidate of the left has had his victory honored, after three tries. In 1988, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) almost certainly had his victory stolen by fraud. Then, in 2006, AMLO himself, then running with the PRD, claimed his victory was similalry stolen. His supporters launched a protest occupation of Mexico City's central plaza, the Zocalo, and there was talk of forming a "parallel government." Now AMLO, running with his new vehicle, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), has made it. There is a sense of a real break with Mexico's traditional political parties, The once-hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is again discredited, as narco-violence only escalated under the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. AMLO's old vehicle the PRD meanwhile formed an unlikely coalition with the right-wing National Action Party (PAN).
Two obvious questions face AMLO, and the first is how he will deal with Donald Trump—who attained office by demonizing Mexicans and pledging to build a wall on the border (and make Mexico pay for it). AMLO positioned himself as taking a harder line against Trump than did Peña Nieto. Last year, AMLO actually filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against Trump's proposed wall.
But the day after his victory, AMLO tweeted that he had received a call from Trump, and that it all went down very amicably: "I proposed that we explore an integral agreement of development projects, which generate jobs in Mexico and with that reduce migration and improve security. There was respectful treatment and our representatives will speak more." (Yucatan Times)
And as populists and opponents of free-trade economics, there may be unlikely common ground between the two men. So far, AMLO has vowed to "respect" the existing Mexican team renegotiating NAFTA with the US. The current talks began last year after Trump called for NAFTA to be reworked to better serve US interests. (TeleSur)
More ominously, it should be noted that AMLO and Trump are just one man apart—and that man is Rudolph Giuliani, who served as anti-crime czar of Mexico City when AMLO was mayor there in 2002. The Economist aptly refered to the pair as "The Very Odd Couple." The Washington Post notes that this was the first big international consulting contract for Giuliani Partners, netting the firm $4.3 million and helping to set the tough-on-crime former New York mayor on the pretigious next act of his career.
This brings us to the second question—of how AMLO will handle Mexico's warring drug cartels and general crisis of crime and insecurity. In his victory speech, he did say: "The failed strategy of combating insecurity and violence will change. More than through the use of force, we will tend to the causes that give rise to insecurity and violence." He said his team will immediately begin consulting with human rights groups, religious leaders and the United Nations to develop a "plan for reconciliation and peace." (Reuters) On the campaign trail, he had actually broached opening a dialogue with the cartels, although the terms of what would be up for discussion were never clearly defined.
The electoral season itself exemplified all too clearly how pressing this question is. More than 130 candidates and political workers were killed since campaigning began in September, with many more candidates and campaign workers threaetened. The cartels and their enforcer gangs form a de facto invisible governmnet in many municipalities across Mexico. (BBC News)
Conflict was particularly acute in the central-western state of Michoacán. State police detained and disarmed the entire police force of the Michoacán town of Ocampo after a mayoral candidate was killed in the days before the election. The slain candidate, Fernando Ángeles Juárez, was running with the PRD. (AP)
In the Michoacán village of Nahuatzén, residents declared the enire election to be a farce, and took the collective decision to bar entry to electoral workers who came to install voting booths. Ballot boxes were burned. (Eje Central, Voices in Movement)
Electoral teams were also barred from the Michoacán village of Cherán, which in 2007 took the decision to reject participation in party politics, but to govern itself by its traditional system of usos y costumbres. (Milenio)
The democratic opening that broke up the old one-party dictatorship of the PRI some 20 years ago was fundamentally a fruit of insurgent peasant movements in Mexico—particularly the Zapatistas in Chiapas. A credible threat of actual revolution provoked the entrenched party elite to allow free presidential elections for the first time in 2000. Ironically, it was the right-wing PAN candidate Vicente Fox who reaped the victory. Now that a candidate of the left has finally acheived power, it would be a more bitter irony still if he succumbed to a hardline "drug war" stance and connived with Trump. After all, addressing "root causes" is difficult, and upsets the powerful. Appealing to anti-neoliberal populism is easier, and often works, in terms of immediate political success—as Trump himself has amply demonstrated.