IN DEPTH: 10 Keys to Understanding Mexico’s Lopez Obrador a Year after His Election
By Katu Arkonada
By Katu Arkonada – One year after the triumph of the people, a popular insurrection of votes at the polls, that occurred on July 1, 2018, and 7 months of governing, perhaps the phrase that best characterizes the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is the one with which this analysis begins. A President, moved by a deep yearning for social justice, who finds that fundamental change is much more than banishing structural corruption in the federal government, and that to build something new there has to be a dismantling of that old neo liberal and colonial state that sits on very solid foundations.
But if Lopez Obrador is doing something, it’s just that, rebuilding the nation. Corruption is nothing more than a metaphor (significant emptiness, some would say) of the neoliberal model that Mexico sowed with poverty, inequality, and violence.
These 12 or 7 months can be synthesized into 10 keys that allow us to understand a Mexico in the process of transformation, even if it is not as deep or as fast as we would like:
1. It is the economy. It is always the economy. Guaranteeing the material living conditions of the population must be the main objective of any transformation process. Raising the minimum wage by 16.2% in his first month of government was a good way to start. The bottom line is the redistribution, even if it’s partial, of the wealth via universal bonuses. If social programs can quickly reach millions of people, as AMLO has proposed, along with progressive labor reform that increases the rights of the working class, Mexico can return to the path of growth and end the six-year period with a 4% increase in GDP that has been set as a goal. Growth based on the increase in domestic demand in the short term while the country is (re)industrializing in the medium-long term is a formula that has already worked in other progressive processes of the continent, and although the right, economic, political, and the media, is frightened, the model being followed is Keynes, not Marx.
2. Austerity. The economic bet is preceded by a firm decision of republican austerity. To set an example with your own praxis, even though this has as its guiding axis an immovable and erroneous decision, in the opinion of many, not to incur public debt. Moreover, in this project known as the fourth transformation, there is no the saying that prevention is better than cure. First the disease/error is detected, and then the cure/corrects if necessary.
3. Fight against poverty and violence. Despite the temptation to divide it in two, we cannot separate these concepts. The neoliberal model in Mexico could only be implemented through the doctrine of shock, through the most savage violence that has left Mexico strewn with mass graves. And the remains in them are always of poor brown-skinned people. Social programs should not only allow the social majorities drowned by neoliberalism to breathe, but should also serve, in the medium-long term, to reduce the involvement of the popular classes in schemes of violence promoted by narco-trafficking and other criminal groups. Some government decisions, such as the first decree signed by AMLO on December 3 to create a special commission for the Ayotzinapa 43 case, goes beyond the symbolic. The designation of Omar Gómez Trejo as head of the Special Investigation and Litigation Unit for the Ayotzinapa case ratifies that the clarification of the disappearance of the 43 students studying to be teachers, that took place five years ago this September 26, is now a State policy.
4. Criminal economy. The shock doctrine is part of a much broader board game, where the criminal economy, which is much more than narco, has played a determining role. Carlos Fazio’s phrase “There is no such thing as a war on drugs, but rather the administration of criminal economy businesses” characterizes very well a business that, in addition to, or perhaps we should say thanks to, leaves a tally of 250,000 dead and 40,000 people missing, This already represents more than 10% of Mexico’s GDP. And although the criminal economy is more than the narco, how the narco problem is going to be dealt with is key to this equation. Amnesty for peasant growers and putting on the table debates on the legalization of marijuana or even poppy (which would imply war with the legal pharmaceutical mafias), are a first step. At some point there has to be an implicit or explicit negotiation with the groups that were given territorial sovereignty in a good part of the country.
5. National Guard. And the National Guard will play a determining role in the recovery of territorial sovereignty. In the face of local or state police forces that in many cases collude with territorial mafias, a new security force that, from a human rights perspective, restores sovereignty and security in large parts of the national territory is fundamental. Probably, how the National Guard is deployed and acts will play a part in the success, or not, of López Obrador’s government at the end of his six-year term. In any case, the National Guard must serve to enforce the law and never to repress social protest or the migrants who pass through Mexico. It goes without saying that no human being is illegal. The mafias that transport and traffic migrants are illegal.
6. Trump. The debate over the National Guard has intensified as a result of the decision to send it to establish a state presence, and therefore sovereignty, on the porous southern border, as part of the negotiation with the whimsical White House tenant. Negotiation that was entered could lose little, or lose a lot, but it managed to gain time. We know that between now and November 2020, the date of the presidential election in the United States, Mexico is going to be subjected to the ups and downs, and probably also political-electoral blackmail from the neighbor to the north. At some point (we will have to choose the right moment) we will have to confront and not give in. (The recent tragedy of Oscar and Valeria, Salvadoran migrants drowned by their eagerness to enter the U.S., despite waiting for asylum in Mexican territory and with a humanitarian visa granted by the AMLO government, is the cruelest confirmation of how difficult it is to propose viable alternatives to address the immigration issue in Mexican territory.) Although drug trafficking and human trafficking go in a south-north direction, arms trafficking and money laundering do so in the opposite direction, and allow us to explore possibilities to put pressure on the United States on that important issue.
7. International Politics. In spite of having repeated a thousand times that the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy, the role played by Mexico in the Venezuelan crisis, by action (presenting the Montevideo Mechanism for talks) or omission (delegitimizing with its absence the Lima Group), makes international politics to be one of the main keys to analyzing AMLO’s government. The next meeting to promote a new progressive moment, which will be held this July in Puebla with several of the main progressive leaders of the continent, indicates that Mexico, beyond even governmental policies, is going to be a reference point in the new wave of left and national-popular movement of the continent.
8. All the actions of Mexican politics are already looking sideways to 2021, when mid-term elections are held and the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies are completely renewed. AMLO’s decision to go for a referendum on his record at the half way mark, even if it cannot be on the same Election Day, will serve to politicize and turn 2021 into an election year. While the Social Encounter Party (PES), with which he formed an electoral alliance with in 2018, has already run its usefulness. Morena has the challenge of forming new cadres both for public administration and for a party emptied into the federal government, and the other ally, the Labor Party, has the task of becoming the left of the center-left, renewing its image and discourse to seduce the new electorates.
9. Polarization. The liberal left-right conservative dichotomy serves to mirror the privileges enjoyed so far by the Mexican political, economic and media elites, and a privileged minority in a G20 country that is full of poverty and, above all, inequality. Polarizing is AMLO’s way of governing, he knows no other, and there is no other more effective way. And it works for him. If this was not the case how can it be explained why his approval rating is around 70%, well above the 53% that voted him in on July 1, 2018. Consultations, despite their shortcomings, are another way of broadening and widening democracy, beyond the margins of liberal democracy. And that also works, that’s why Texcoco airport expansion is a political corpse, a monument to remind us that those who now oppose Saint Lucia airport project never cared about the corruption or environmental destruction that was to be the epic project of the PRI construction companies. Beyond the obvious previously outlined, if there is one thing to note about these 12 months since the victory of July 1, 2018, and especially since December 1, it is the politicization of the public debate that has taken place, which is the cornerstone of the transformation process. There is nothing more political than people not contenting themselves with voting and leaving the next 3 or 6 years in the hands of politicians. There is nothing nicer than people saying what the government spends, or should spend, the budget on. There is nothing more political than a President responding to journalists every morning about his government’s actions.
10. Social and environmental conflicts. In order not to be complacent, this analysis seeks to close with one of the main weaknesses of the fourth transformation, inherited from the neoliberal governments there are the numerous social and environmental conflicts that cross Mexican territory. That is why it is necessary that everything that has to do with the big star megaprojects of the AMLO government, from the Dos Bocas refinery to the Mayan Train, that will be passing through an important and fragile ecological corridor, must be done respecting environmental laws and agreements, as well as in free, prior and informed consultation with the indigenous peoples who inhabit those territories.
These 10 keys display a cartographic political and social map of the fourth transformation. It shows all their power, but also of some weak flanks to which it is necessary to pay attention to, and perhaps to reinforce the debate and the communication around them, to counteract the offensive of the lumpen-comentocracy. The narrative of the fourth transformation is being constructed in real time, making it easier to see the communicative seams of the project. There have been great advances in these months that have not been well communicated, both in the governmental and legislative spheres, where the majority of the change in the Legislature and the Senate has managed to turn corruption, fuel theft, electoral fraud, femicide and forced disappearance into serious crimes.
AMLO is not Chavez, as the right has insisted for years. If anything, he resembles the first Lula, who without excessively touching the interests of the elites, transformed Brazil by lifting 40 million people out of poverty. But AMLO has also promised that in the second half of the six-year period, structural constitutional reforms will be made to expand rights and guarantee social justice. Is it a utopia to think of a progressive fiscal reform so that those who earn the most pay more taxes and thus deepen the fourth transformation, reducing poverty and inequality?