A scant four months ago, the Rio Grande Guardian broke the news—scarcely mentioned in other media—of the 2018 elections (July 5th) for President of Mexico. If you didn’t pay attention to my column then, it is time to do so now. Things have changed.
The 7.1 Richter terremoto that hit Mexico City and Puebla September 20th followed closely on the heels of an even stronger quake (8.2) that devastated Oaxaca (also covered here in the Guardian) September 8th. Both quakes have had political repercussions.
Mexico’s society is stronger than ever, in spite of (or because of?) the quakes. Civil groups are taking matters into their own hands, increasingly trying to avoid too much dependence on the central government. Indeed, many (especially the youth of the country) demand all political parties drastically cut funds designed for 2018 presidential campaigns, said to be among the most expensive in the world.
Dedicate the funds instead, they insist, to quake repair and reparations. Parties have responded, each claiming it will give more than others to restore infra-structure and societal needs. In this (believable?) contest, new candidates and relative rankings for the next president have emerged since the May 2017 evaluation discussed on these pages.
At that time, it seemed AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador), the MORENA candidate, was in the lead. The clever acronym of the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional suggests affinity with “La Vírgen Morena,” or the Virgin of Guadalupe. It is a party of the masses, the poor but how truly “left-of-center” the party remains is debatable.
Moreover, the party’s volatile founder and leader is down in the polls. He seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (he was ahead at the last writing). During the Mexico City quake, while most politicos were busy tending to quake recovery business (or pretending to), AMLO didn’t even pretend.
AMLO was in Europe, vacationing; photos of him at beach and strolling quiet avenues, in contrast to shots of devastation in Mexico, did not play well. It wasn’t even Bush’s “great job, Brownie” moment or Trump’s callous “amazing recovery” to devastation in Puerto Rico. (There may, indeed, be more reactions to that destruction and government delays. Protests are appearing to make Puerto Rico a State; others call again for its independence as a nation.)
So, AMLO seems almost out. Neither does the former runner-up, PAN’s (right-of-center National Action Party) Margarita Zavala (spouse of former PAN President Calderón) still maintain her position. Her problem is less that of gender than her obvious ties to the former president, not known for his successful six years of service. Many feel she would simply be a “stand-in” for timid policies of the past. I interviewed a bright, young successful PANista who admitted he will leave his party and vote Meade, who will represent the beleaguered PRI.
The new, “hot” candidate is Dr. José Antonio Meade Kuribreña. He is an “Independent,” but currently Secretary of Finance (Hacienda) in the cabinet of EPN, President Enrique Peña Nieto. EPN is a member of PRI (formerly the long-ruling Revolutionary Party, now returned to office). Meade has also served with PAN’s president, Calderón. Young and modest, he is the consummate technocrat, having held numerous other economic positions.
Meade is of partial Irish and Lebanese origin. He is a lawyer and diplomat (he served as Secretary of State) as well as an economist. He studied at the National University of Mexico, the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, and has a Doctorate in Economics from Yale. Experience counts in Mexico for the important office of President. Ideology counts much less; the PRI will coalesce with the PRD, a slightly “left-of-center” party.
What counts the most? Above all his qualifications; Meade has a reputation for honesty. “He drives a Prius to work, not an SUV or fancy government vehicle” (Eric Martin, Bloomberg News, 28 June 2017). Voters might, then, forgive him for his part in the recent 20% gasoline rate hike. Honesty is prized amid charges of corruption among the PRI and other parties. (More importantly, PRI has just changed its party rules, allowing non-members to compete for party positions.) Meade’s higher education and elite status will not be held against him.
Mexico City and other parts of Mexico now have installed a new system–a unique siren alarm, which can give residents a few precious minutes of warning before the next earthquake.
It seems there is now another system of warning in place, a buzzing, calling out for political change. Those who ignore the earthquake alarm system will do so at their peril. Those who ignore the new possibilities for electoral choice and the new demands for honesty and transparency will regret their decision as well.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows Dr. José Antonio Meade Kuribreña.