The Empire Strikes Back Against Mexican President AMLO

The Economist urges Mexican voters to vote for anyone but AMLO and the US government is up to its old tricks: funneling money to political opposition groups.

Andres Manuel López Obrador enjoys pride of place on the cover of the May 29-June 4 edition of The Economist. Above his picture is the headline “Mexico’s False Messiah.” An editorial inside the magazine compares AMLO, as the president is commonly known, to “authoritarian populists” such as Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Narendra Modi of India and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. But unlike them, AMLO has been able to escape the limelight, the newspaper said.

“This is partly because he lacks some of the vices of his populist peers. He does not deride gay people, bash Muslims or spur his supporters to torch the Amazon,” The Economist said. “To his credit, he speaks out loudly and often for Mexico’s have-nots, and he is not personally corrupt. Nonetheless, he is a danger to Mexican democracy.” As such, voters in each locality should “support whichever opposition party is best placed to win”.

President López Obrador responded to the article by describing it as “propagandistic” and highlighting the arrogance of a British weekly newspaper seeking to advise Mexicans on how to vote in next Sunday’s election:

“These foreign magazines and newspapers dedicated themselves to applauding the neoliberal policies [of past governments]; they’re in favor of privatizations, and they always kept quiet in the face of the corruption that reigned [in Mexico.]… It’s like me going to the United Kingdom and asking the English to vote for my friend [Jeremy] Corbyn of the Labour Party. I can’t do that because that’s a decision for the English. So why don’t they respect [us]?”

The Economist is not just a British newspaper. It has nearly a million subscribers in North America (far more than the 270,000 in Britain), and several hundred thousand in the rest of the world. Its readership has always comprised the crème de le crème of the financial and business elite. Within a decade of its founding, in 1843, Karl Marx described it as the organ of “the aristocracy of finance.” Not much has changed since then. As the New Yorker wrote in 2019, since the early nineties The Economist has served, alongside the Financial Times, as “the suavely British-accented voice of globalization.” And it is that voice that is now calling upon Mexican voters to frustrate AMLO’s electoral ambitions.

High-Stakes Election

This coming Sunday (June 6) Mexico will hold its biggest ever mid-term election. And the stakes could not be higher. As of six days ago 88 candidates had been killed by narco gangs. It’s a stark reminder of how strong a grip organized crime continues to hold on Mexican society.

According to the latest polls, MORENA, the umbrella movement led by AMLO, is likely to win both the congress and the senate with comfortable margins. But it’s unlikely to secure an absolute majority, which means it will still depend on other parties to pass new laws. And that is about the best result the financial and business elite, both inside and outside Mexico, could hope for.

The one thing they definitely don’t want is for AMLO to further strengthen his grip on political power in Mexico. If MORENA won an absolute majority in both legislative chambers, AMLO would be able to sign into law just about any bill. The opposition parties are exceptionally weak right now, largely because they have done such a bad job of governing in the past. Many of their members, including some of the most corrupt, have switched to MORENA, which has hardly helped MORENA’s popularity. As a friend told me, MORENA is like a garbage truck picking up old trash along the way.

The Economist cites a slew of reasons why AMLO represents a threat to Mexico’s democratic government. They include the legally questionable referendums he has held on infrastructure projects; the wide range of government tasks – including supervising large construction projects – he has entrusted to the military; his slashing of the budgets of public watchdogs; and his repeated clashes with the National Electoral Institute. 

There are plenty of other things the AMLO goverment has got wrong, as Kurt Hackbath reports in Jacobin magazine:

It has been too timid on a number of fronts, including reining in the privatized free-for-all of the mining and banking industries, attacking the nation’s grotesque wealth inequality, and defending migrants against US pressure.

It has been inactive on indigenous rights, insensitive to protests surrounding the plague of feminicides, and inadequate in creating a long-term environmental vision in the face of climate change. Its budget reductions have cut too close to the bone in a number of areas, including science and culture. And despite the fanfare of a new National Guard, the violence has not abated.

AMLO also failed to respond effectively to Covid-19. Like Trump, he played down the fears in the early days of the pandemic, with disastrous results. His government has partially made up for that in recent months by allowing the Institute of Social Security and Mexico City local authorities to recommend the use of ivermectin in the early treatment of Covid-19. According to the mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Scheinbaum, the medicine has reduced hospitalisations by as much as 76%.

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