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How Did AMLO Become the Frontrunner in Mexico’s Elections?

Photo by Eneas De Troya | CC BY 2.0

The presidential election scheduled for July 1, 2018 in Mexico appears to favor Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), a center-left populist candidate who almost won in 2006 and 2012 and on both occasions accused “the mafia of the powerful” of having stolen the elections. The AMLO of 2018 is, verbally speaking, more moderate than the one who, at one of the various marches that drew more than a million people to denounce the fraud of 2006, said: “To hell with the institutions” in apparent reference to the government in general but, according to his subsequent clarifications, was only a reference to the electoral authorities.

AMLO’s current party is Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (MORENA). He abandoned the center-left PRD after the election of 2012 to found what was intended to be a more progressive and less corrupt party. The PRD has subsequently lost most of its members and has moved farther to the right, to the extreme of allying itself with the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), the traditional conservative party which was the base of recent presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón, both of whom have now left the party. Calderón’s wife is now an independent candidate for president. The candidate of the PAN-PRD coalition this year is Ricardo Anaya, a young real estate speculator and party official.

How did AMLO, a man denounced as “a danger for Mexico” “an authoritarian” and “a populist like Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro and Donald Trump”, become the frontrunner? One explanation is a sense of despair among the population. The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the long-ruling PRI, promised to end the wave of “drug-related” violence that increased when his predecessor, Calderón, launched a “war on drugs”.  Peña Nieto has made no dent in the violence. During his first years in office, he and his local counterparts were able to seduce news media into not reporting atrocities, but that strategy no longer works.  The disappearance of 43 education students in September of 2014 does not attract the level of attention and outrage that it did in its immediate aftermath, but it turned millions more Mexicans into firm, if passive, opponents of the regime. Most Mexicans know of someone murdered, kidnapped, or raped in recent years. Six to eight women are murdered every day. There have recently been two shootings in churches a mile from downtown Brownsville, Texas, in Matamoros. Police, military, and other government personnel are clearly and deeply involved in many of these events. “Reform” politicians like Chihuahua state governor Javier Corral, of the small liberal wing of the PAN, openly blame victims of violence because they “were involved in something”. The U.S. and Canada make immigration increasingly difficult, and thus one safety valve is closing.

The PRI’s candidate this year, the ultra-technocratic former cabinet member José Antonio Meade, has less than 20 percent support in most polls. Meade appeared to be the secret weapon of the PRI to take votes from the PAN (of which his grandfather was a founder), but his campaign has never taken off.

Anaya presents himself as a young rocker with no ties to the PAN’s right-wing Catholic and proto-Nazi past, and some young people who normally would vote for the PRD or would not vote have been hypnotized by this message. He is accused, however, of laundering money via the purchase and sale (hours later) of an industrial plant. He sold the lot for 54 million pesos, which is about 2.5 million dollars. But the minimum wage in Mexico is just under 21,000 pesos a year (a bit more than 1,000 dollars). So to earn what Anaya earned that day as a minimum wage worker, it would only take you between 1700 and 2300 years, depending on whether the job comes with a formal contract. And this leads us to another aspect of Mexican life: economic desperation. Visitors to parts of Mexico City or Cancún may perceive Mexico to be a predominantly middle class country; such visitors have not seen how many people are living in one room or that 20 percent of the population in Mexico City does not have running water.

López Obrador has been criticized by some on the left for incorporating business leaders whom he formerly criticized as part of the oligarchy into leadership roles in his campaign.  He has also “swept up” politicians of other parties who come to his party when they fail to receive the nominations of their parties. In spite of—or because of?—all of this, he was leading in all polls by a margin of more than 20 percent in April. This changed after the first debate on Sunday, April 22, when López Obrador, to avoid reacting impulsively or angrily to attacks, went to the extreme of not responding. Of the major polls, Massive Caller, was the first to appear with post-debate data. It showed Anaya reducing AMLO’s lead from a 22 to a 7 point margin. New information about Anaya’s real estate dealings is emerging that may put a dent in his numbers. A second debate a few weeks later didn’t dissolve questions about López Obrador’s health and ability to respond rapidly to attacks but didn’t put any other candidate in position to challenge his lead.

Leftist observers cite several possible scenarios:

1. López Obrador wins with a fraud-proof margin, takes power and does (or doesn’t) implement radical changes. U.S.-backed attempts to undermine his government or overthrow him, as have occurred against similar center-left governments in Brazil and Honduras in recent months and years, and in most of Latin America throughout the 20thCentury, seem likely to occur.

2. López Obrador wins by a small margin and his victory is again annulled by fraud on the part of one or more political party, one or more foreign government*, the INE (the electoral authority), the current administration, and/or business groups.

On this occasion, AMLO supporters and other “encabronados” (angry bastards) wage a heavier resistance effort than in 2006 or 2012. (Dr. José Manuel Mireles, one of the founders of the armed self-defense groups in the state of Michoacán, and who was recently released after a few years of imprisonment for that activity, has called for the formation of “electoral self-defense” groups, though he has not specified what this entails. Weapons are much more regulated in Mexico than in the U.S.)

Then AMLO reneges on his promise to go quietly to live in a rural area if he loses and stays to direct the resistance in such a way that it does not transcend symbolic actions, Anaya or Meade assume the presidency, and nothing changes.

3. Media, corporate, and government attacks against AMLO increase (as they are) and allow another candidate to win easily. What is interesting here is that, though he is vulnerable to such attacks (which have never ceased since 2004), he is the only well-known candidate and thus people have more basis than before with which to downplay such propaganda.

Notes.

*Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook promised recently that the company would not permit Russian interference in Mexican elections; he said nothing about the possible interference of another country, much closer to home.

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Johnny Hazard is somewhere where the banks won’t find him, but he can often be reached at jhazard99@yahoo.com.

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