MEXICO CITY – Anti-corruption candidate, nationalist, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO for short) absolutely dominated the polls in Mexico’s highly contested presidential race Sunday. His election represents a new era in Mexican politics, in a political sea change driven by half a century of voter disenfranchisement and cynicism – a rejection of the politics of austerity, privatization, and brutal state repression.
Lopez Obrador won, according to the most complete count to-date, 53% of the vote, which in a multi-party parliamentary democracy like Mexico, is quite considerable.
Indeed, it is the first time in Mexico’s modern history a candidate has won more than half the vote in a full election.
But the story we are not finding in any brief news-like reportage of this election, is much in the way of context. US press covers the story more or less as a reflection of the US’s own story, and wants to connect it to Trump. On the ‘hard’ left, we are seeing this used as a convenient time to launch into tired, age-old polemics about bourgeois-nationalism, populism, or demagoguery.
Rather, this election was based in Mexico’s internal logic, and while of course relating to Mexico’s place in the world, was not in any way some sort of referendum on the US or on Trump, despite liberal western media reportage to the contrary.
And this election is not just about opposition to corruption, cronyism, or Mexico’s de facto one-party rule. While those were all elements, the real story here is not being told. So what is it?
Mexico has essentially been ruled by an increasingly market oriented ‘Institutional Revolutionary Party’, or PRI since 1929. The first generation of revolutionary Mexican politics in the 1930’s under President Cardenas saw a program of development, modernization, centralization, economic development, and programs of socio-economic development and justice not entirely different from, say, that of FDR’s in the US during the same period. The concept of a a revolutionary party that is at the same time ‘in power’, is the result of the complex tapestry of mid-century modern political ideologies, especially those which saw their hey-day in the 1930’s through 1960’s.
One of the crowning achievements of the revolution, and what would become the PRI a few years later, was the nationalization of the oil industry, the creation of PEMEX, and land-reform, where the large latifundium were broken up and distributed equitably among the peasants who worked the land.
For AMLO, PEMEX and poverty would be two of the big issues that built his base.
The PRI’s main ideological trends were technocracy, revolutionary nationalism, corporatism of the left, and related syncretic Latin American movements which in some ways parallel Peronism in Argentina. However, not unlike many other governments and systems during the ‘gilded age’ of neo-liberal fanatacism in the 80’s and 90’s, and more following the collapse of the USSR, Mexico began to increase its course of de-popularization of the social system, and to increase its reliance on US business-school based ideas of governance and development.
In the year 2000, the increasingly pro-business bureaucratic layer that grew up alongside Mexico’s development through the decades, finally found expression in the PAN – National Action Party into presidential power.
So at least formally, Mexico has had two-party rule since 2000, even though the PAN is in fact comprised of those neo-liberal drifting layers from within the PRI. The result, much like the US, is a de facto one-party rule of neo-liberalism.
This brings us to understanding AMLO – Lopez Obrador. Just as their was a pro-business split within the increasingly neo-liberal PRI, there was also a pro-Cardenas split. That is, there was a pro-social split which sought to return Mexico’s path to that of the original PRI vision, of a democratic technocratic state, based on a developmental model of corporatism, distributism, and many economic models contemplated by various left-wing pseudo-fascisms, but supported by and situated within the vectors of the left including organized labor and its democratically elected leadership delegates.
This split became a party, and this party was launched and called the PRD – Party for Democratic Revolution. Again, the idea here is to return Mexico to the original path of the PRI, not what the PRI had become, and certainly farther from what the PRI was becoming – the PAN.
AMLO was very close to winning the presidency at the height of the pink-tide that swept Latin America over a decade ago, but due to what supporters alleged was vote rigging and fraud, AMLO was deprived of victory. So this movement, all along, as also had this element of being owed a victory, or better – a victory that was a long-time in the making.
AMLO decided to grow the PRD brand, and make a larger movement from its base, now called MORENA – Movement for National Regeneration. The concept of national regeneration being promoted by a man of the left, has in recent years become anathema within the US’s witch-hunting new left. These are among the reasons that global developments are so very interesting, and also a reason why these events are beyond fathom for many within the US who have considered themselves leftists.
Given this history, and the obvious allusions one would otherwise be inclined to make, Lopez Obrador, 64, sought to downplay fears of radicalism, after critics branded him a “tropical Messiah”, who would install Cuba or Venezuela-style policies that could wreck this important North American economy.
“Our new national project seeks an authentic democracy. We are not looking to construct a dictatorship, either open or hidden,” he told cheering supporters, promising to safeguard freedoms, respect the private sector and work to reconcile a divided nation.
He also vowed to pursue a relationship of “friendship and cooperation” with the United States, Mexico’s key trading partner — a change in tone from some comments during the campaign, when he said he would put US President Donald Trump “in his place.” But AMLO didn’t run against Trump, because all of the candidates oppose Trump’s wall plan, and were vocal enough about it when asked – normally by US press for whom the issue of Mexico simply means immigration.
Lopez Obrador ran on his opposition to the never-ending series of corruption scandals and violence stories that left 25,000 murdered last year alone; violence brought on by the country’s powerful drug cartels who work alongside US intelligence agencies with the aim of using drugs as a tool of social control.
Lopez Obrador in fact agrees with Trump that Mexican migration to the US is problematic. The two leaders may not agree on the causes or the solutions, but they certainly both view it as a problem – whether causal or symptomatic is another question.
The great poverty in inequity that Mexico faces is a product of both the interference of some US business interests, the US’s official foreign policy, and the circumstantial disadvantages that Mexico had as an export-producing country, as well as the inability for a strong-enough Mexican state to take control of both corruption and drug cartels. By improving Mexico’s economy, alongside Trump’s policy of a weaker dollar, will compel Mexicans to remain in Mexico where opportunities, under Obrador, may indeed improve.
In order to secure victory, win the vote, he had to placate business concerns, especially around this question of PEMEX. PEMEX, Mexico’s nationalized oil industry has been in a poor state of mismanagement and continual privatization over the decades. The outgoing president had promised to fully privatize PEMEX, a process that is incomplete and still in limbo. AMLO promised during his campaign to reverse the full privatization, and instead towards the end of his campaign, muted those and appears to have back-pedaled at the last minute to placate some concerns.
However, we should not be surprised to find some way to re-sovereigntize Mexico’s oil industry, whether this is couched as a question of public or private property seems secondary to where the wealth produced ultimately winds up.