The landslide triumph of anti-establishment figure Andrés Manuel López Obrador has emerged from a disastrous social and economic crisis for Mexico’s ruling order and traditional party, opening up a new era of possibility for the left, argues Sean Ledwith
The election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (shortened to AMLO by his supporters) to the Mexican presidency on July 2nd has been greeted with excitement and hope by many of the country’s poor, sickened by decades of endemic corruption and state-sponsored violence. Appearing at mass rallies like Mexico’s answer to Corbyn and Sanders, the white-haired 64-year-old was ahead by an average 10% throughout the campaign and ultimately won over 53% of the vote on election day.
The achievement of the former Governor of Tabasco province and Mayor of Mexico City is impressive in itself, but even more so in the light of the fact the second largest economy in Latin America has been a virtual one-party state for most of the second half of the 20th century up to the present. The triumph of AMLO’s ‘Together We’ll Make History’ coalition (dominated by the ‘MORENA’ party he formally established in 2014) represents a historic crisis for the PRI Party that has dominated Mexican politics since the Great Depression era. Like other recent elections in other major capitalist states such as France and Germany, the rise of AMLO represents the shattering of an ossified establishment political system and its failed neoliberal policies (such as the disastrous removal of trade barriers and agricultural subsidies).
For some on the right, Monday’s electoral breakthrough creates the nightmare scenario of the US’s southern neighbour turning to a Chavez-style left populist. That is certainly, what many of Obrador’s supporters will be hoping.
Like other emerging capitalist economies such as Brazil and South Africa, Mexico entered the 21st century with a mood of optimism among its business class that an export-driven economy would be able to cash in on China’s rise to superpower status. However, also like similar economies, Mexico’s development plans were blown off course by the impact of the 2008 recession. At the end of the 1990s GDP was growing at almost 10% per year as oil production surged alongside exports of the country’s silver and agricultural wealth. Last year growth had slowed down to barely 1%.
Of course, this period of economic boom mainly served to enrich the Mexican elite and had negligible impact on its estimated 65 million people in poverty (including 13 million in extreme poverty) out of 120 million. This appalling inequality has created a swamp of alienation and desperation out of which Mexico’s notorious narco gangs have emerged to become de facto rivals of the central government in many areas of the country. Over 200 000 people have been killed in gang-related violence in the last decade or so, with an additional 34 000 classified as disappeared. The endemic violence has also disfigured this campaign with a barely-believable 132 candidates murdered.
The not so Great Escape
One of the most high profile and tragic cases of this ongoing calamity was the disappearance of 43 student teachers in 2014 from the town of Iguana. The students were on their way from Ayotzinapa teachers’ college to a protest about the growing power of the narco gangs when hooded gunmen stopped their bus. They have not been heard from since. Campaigners on behalf of the students have been a fixture at Obrador’s campaign rallies, expressing their highly credible suggestion that the failure to locate the students (or even their bodies) is indicative of high-level collusion between the Mexican police and the cartels.
There were similar accusations of an unhealthily close relationship between law-breakers and law-enforcers after the suspiciously straightforward escape of Mexico’s most infamous drug lord, El Chapo Guzman; from prison in 2016, (somehow a rail track and motorcycle had slipped unseen into his top-security cell!)
Rise of PRI
AMLO’s stunning victory puts an end to almost seventy years of political domination by Mexico’s anachronistically named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Formed in the 1930s, the PRI sought to stabilise the country’s political system after the turbulence of the revolution that wracked Mexico in the years leading up to WW1. Led by legendary figures such as Emiliano Zapata and Poncho Villa, the revolution that erupted in 1910 briefly offered hope to Mexico’s developing working class and the even larger peasantry that had endured centuries of oppression since Spanish colonisation.
Failure to form a coherent opposition to the status quo, however, allowed the military to retain the reins of power. When the revolutionary tide ebbed after WW1, the generals supervised the creation of the PRI - a party that kept a rhetorical commitment to populist ideals but, in reality, promoted Mexico’s insertion into the global capitalist system. The focus was always on Institutions rather than revolutions.
Fall of PRI
The degeneration of the PRI from political dominance to electoral no-hopers has been astonishing. The outgoing PRI President, Enrique Pena Nieto, has managed to earn unprecedented levels of negative approval from voters. Incredibly, he is even more unpopular than Donald Trump (the man who labelled Mexican immigrants as rapists and wants to build a wall between the two countries!). Nieto committed one of the great political own goals of recent history when he invited Trump to Mexico just after the last US election. Nieto’s friendly reception for the Orange Abomination unsurprisingly went down like a lead balloon. The PRI candidate this time round, Jose Antonio Meade, was not even a member of the party! This lame attempt to dissociate the candidate from the party fooled no one and Meade attained a risible 16% of the vote.
AMLO’s accession to the Presidency is definitely an event to be welcomed by the left; not least, because senior members of the Trump administration have previously expressed their disapproval of the possibility. HR McMaster, Trump’s National Security Adviser, earlier this year cited the red herring of Russian interference in the election. Chief of Staff John Kelly revealed the more likely reason for US paranoia about AMLO’s breakthrough - the fear that an anti-American government may take power of Washington’s doorstep.
Regrettably, the likelihood is that AMLO, as President will disappoint many of the millions who voted for him at the weekend. He is a former PRI member himself and has already sent messages to Washington designed to re-assure them about his intentions. Alfonso Romo, a Monterrey tycoon, has been appointed as part of the Presidential transition team in an effort to pacify Mexico’s business elite. AMLO also has the dubious support of Carlos Slim, until recently the richest man on the planet.
Another reason to be cautious about AMLO’s prospects is that his ‘Together We’ll Make History’ coalition also contains the PES, a social conservative faction that promotes an anti-abortion and anti-gay rights agenda.
Nevertheless, Obrador’s electoral triumph, powered by millions of working class people, creates an opportunity for the Mexican left to re-group and revive the traditions of resistance that stretches back the to the revolution of the last century and the Chiapas movement of the 1990s that initiated today’s global anti-capitalist movement. It also serves to remind the world’s elites that notice has been served on whatever form of parliamentary manipulation they have relied on for decades.