AMLO, like Trump? Trump, departed but not gone from our lives? Now, Trump “alive and well” in Mexico? Depends on with whom you speak.
I spoke with one of my sources, “Jorge,” a graduate of La Universidad de las Américas, Cholula, Mexico. He is a former student of mine, now a successful rancher and businessman—and very pro-AMLO. For Jorge, AMLO can do no wrong. In large part, this loyalty comes after years, nay, decades, as Jorge and friends see it, of rule by selfish (often corrupt) capitalists, the parties of the right, PRI and PAN, only out for themselves. Now, the left finally won and they struggle to maintain momentum.
Other sources: countless texts and articles—especially those right of center—from Mexico and the U.S., never end with their criticism of AMLO (initials for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico). Jorge is partly correct in the protection of his man. Often, the fierce criticism for AMLO comes only because he is AMLO, only because his now dominant party, MORENA, is “left of center,” not for any specific action or policy. He is (at least he was at the beginning of his term – 2018) very pro-worker, pro-campesino, pro-Indigenous peoples. Generally, those groups still support him. However, it has become harder to do.
Supporters don’t know what to make of some of his strange behaviors—early on, denying the severity of COVID; not wearing a mask; advocating only the use of a religious amulet as protection. More recently, he practices a strange form of diplomacy by insulting President Biden (“your election was fraudulent”). He gave a much belated call of acknowledgment, the last of major heads of state to call, to warn Biden—not so much a “felicidades” or congratulations—not to “mess with Mexico.”
More pertinent, less fulfilling of his promises of economic improvement, was AMLO’s decree to stop work on a new airport, throwing hundreds of workers off the job. Part of his rationale? Environmental and cultural degradation, plus cost-saving. However, his much-touted plans for a renewed “Ruta Maya” train in the south of Mexico also has angered environmentalists, who fear destruction of rain forest, inundation by tourists flooding the lands and villages, disrespect for Indigenous peoples. As in the US, often a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
So, what are the facts, or at least the predictions, that would help us calculate how “Trumpie” —or not—is AMLO, how destined to “make Mexico great,” or not? He cannot succeed himself; that is one large difference with U.S. law. (Most Mexican presidents find it hard to get much accomplished during one “sexenio,” the legal six-year term.) So, the sense of urgency.
But AMLO will try. Oddly, he adores Trump. He “made nice,” early on, praised Trump, acquiesced to the new trade agreement of the now, twice impeached, defeated former U.S. President. The obsequiousness is hard to understand, given Trump’s early racist, anti-Mexican diatribes (“they are rapists and murderers”), his later, racist taunts at a Hispanic judge (“he can’t be fair”), and, of course, his vain promise to “build a wall” and “make Mexico pay for it!”
Most Mexicans of all social classes will never forget. Many don’t quite understand how AMLO can overlook the insults (nor why he would want to start relations with the new U.S. administration on a negative note). But, perhaps, part of the explanation lies in widespread belief in the old Mexican proverb: mejor malo conocido, que bueno por conocer (“better the evil you know, than the good you don’t know”). Other reasons: U.S. “meddling,” as Mexicans see it, in their justice system by the DEA.
Also, actually few US Presidents have ever understood Mexico. Few have made Mexico a top priority. FDR—President Franklin Roosevelt—courted Mexico, mainly because the US needed a friendly nation on its borders during wartime. President Kennedy and “Jackie” met with President López Mateos in the summer of 1962, followed by adoring crowds. President Carter was the first to appoint a Mexican American, bi-lingual Dr. Julián Nava, as Ambassador to Mexico.
Trump, on the other hand, deliberately insulted Mexico, our sister nation, during his campaign, and was rewarded with a disturbing racist following that propelled him to the White House. Neither did he visit Canada on his first international trip, as is customary, but was feted in autocratic Saudi Arabia—a portent of things to come. He has now left in defeat, but the damage remains. The echos remain. Some say a doppelganger has arisen, presiding over Mexico—AMLO.
The similarities are troubling: both egocentric; neither admitting errors; both backed by masses of people dissatisfied with government; both in bed with evangelical enablers. Both decry “fake news,” excoriating the media. There, the similarities may end; AMLO is (in rhetoric, at least) “left” of center, Trump, quite to the “right.” Trump might have claimed to be for the working stiff, but his policies (massive tax benefits) were for the very rich. His and his family’s grifting knew no bounds, while AMLO, in his austerity, has eschewed the presidential jet, even Mexico’s palatial “White House,” Los Pinos.
AMLO has imposed no taxes but has tried to concentrate on helping the poor. However, much of the national budget has gone to his pet project, the Mexican oil company, PEMEX. Indeed, one can find both left and right tendencies among AMLO’s rhetoric and policies (José Miguel Vivanco, “AMLO and Trump Trample Human Rights,” Human Rights Watch, 7 Jul 20).
Vivanco further notes: AMLO “faithfully followed Trump’s policies on trade; on the border; on immigration (supporting ‘Remain in Mexico’); on COVID (denial); on women’s rights (push-back).” AMLO opined that women overemphasized abuse charges; he suggested domestic abusers control themselves by just “counting to ten.” More significant for the whole society, AMLO has changed the Constitution to allow the military to patrol streets and to detain civilians.
Actions and rhetoric are mixed. Crime seems to increase, as AMLO pushes his policy of “abrazos, no balazos” for Cartels (hugs, not bullets!). He released, rather than jailing El Chapo Guzmán’s son; cartel members are often seen as “Robin Hoods,” helping the poor. In matters of U.S. relations, he has pointed out, correctly, but almost beside the point, that Obama, as Clinton and Bush before him, had already built fencing between the two countries, as if to exonerate Trump. Yet, to his credit, he has recently praised Biden for his pledge to end “wall” building.
Confused? So, too, must be many of AMLO’s fellow citizens, as well as this author (and U.S. authorities) trying to figure AMLO out, or predict future actions. Even renown intellectual (and leftist), Lorenzo Meyer, Professor at Colegio de México and UC-Berkeley, with a son in AMLO’s cabinet, is puzzled. In response to an interviewer’s question: “que vea Usted por 2021 en México”? (What do you foresee for Mexico this year?), he answered: “un pais complicado, polarizado,” I see a complicated country, more polarized (Fernando del Collado, “Un Proyecto Mas Claro?” Milenio, 18 Oct 20). In that, the U.S. and Mexico are alike.
Any hope? Right now, things look daunting. Mexico has the fourth highest COVID rate of deaths in the world (although, they now are receiving the vaccines). It is experiencing the hardest economic slump in 100 years. Overall, social spending has been cut (Juan Pablo Spineto, “AMLO’s Grande Plan to Transform Mexico On the Cheap,” Bloomberg Politics, 29 Sep 20). Right now, for now, the masses, who gave AMLO his 50-plus percent win in 2018, continue their support.
AMLO signs the debit cards, the pay-outs—$US monthly to elderly poor, $150 to students without jobs (Americas Quarterly, 25 Feb 19). Trump did the same with U.S. pay-outs (and Bolsonaro in Brazil). It increased his vote in poor areas, such as the Rio Grande Valley. Money talks! And, maybe “a rising tide raises all ships,” for the short run; money in the hand is spent, reviving the economy. But conservative Mexicans worry, quite rightly—not just in knee-jerk opposition to AMLO—that, in the long run, employment and manufacturing, if not nurtured, could slip further, and Mexico could face a massive “salida de capital,” investment leaving the country.
AMLO has three more years in office. There is no second term. There is no Vice-President, should the president pass away or retire. In that case, the Secretary of the powerful cabinet post, Gobernación, (something like the U.S. Department of State plus the Attorney General)takes the helm, until new elections. So, in the meantime, Mexico must make do with the president they have.
That means the “right” (big business, white elites, the upper classes who have been so adamant in their anti-AMLO attitudes) must do their best to come to terms with a (semi) leftist, mestizo president, beloved, for good reason, by the masses. Mexico is haunted by its deep classism, just as the US is by its racism. Those elites must, somehow, be persuaded to include the poor this time in their economic theories and practices. They must realize how greatly, and unfairly, the top five percent profited—at the expense of the masses—for decades!
The “left” must, somehow, extrapolate themselves from undue influence from current regressive ties to misogyny and infiltration by right wing, evangelical Protestants. (Ojalá, the U.S. can do the same; evangelicals have nearly destroyed Christianity by their fealty to their Golden Calf who was in the White House four years!) Actually, semi-“leftist” AMLO can be, and has been, rather pragmatic, even conciliatory to some in the business sectors. He likely will continue to “play it down the middle.”
Surely, AMLO, a nominal Catholic, can and will make nice with the new (second in history) Catholic president of the U.S. Hopefully, President Biden will be alert to the drastic need to reach out to Mexico, ignoring AMLO’s inept beginnings with him, and forge even stronger ties between our two historically connected countries. The US faced—and avoided—a disastrous second Trump term. Let us not now waste this new chance—to repair, renew, upgrade economic and diplomatic relations with Mexico. Viva México! Viva los Estados Unidos de America! Viva la amistad!
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by writer and commentator Gary Mounce. It appears with the permission of the author. To contact Mounce, email him at: [email protected].
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows a file photo of Andrés Manuel López Obrador greeted by supporters during a campaign rally in Mexico City. (Photo: Carlos Jasso/Reuters)
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