In recent days, McAllen, Texas, has been the focus of the attention of world. Immigration events on the U.S. border with Mexico have drawn U.S. officials, media, pro and con supporters of current immigration policy.
Soon, nearby Edinburg, Texas, home of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and county seat of Hidalgo County, will be the center of attention.
At noon, on Tuesday, July 10th, 2018, the new, trendy Bob’s Steak & Chop House restaurant in Edinburg, part of a national chain, will host a panel discussion hosted by the Rio Grande Guardian of utmost importance—the “Meaning for the Border Region of Andrés Manuél López Obrador (AMLO) as President of Mexico.” (Click here for more information about the conversation.)
Nay-sayers abound: Former head of Homeland Security, John Kelly, current chief of staff for President Trump, proclaimed election of AMLO “would not be good for America—or for Mexico.” In Latin America, right wing novelist, Vargas Llosa hoped “Mexico would not commit suicide by electing AMLO.” In Mexico, moderate leftist and intellectual, Enrique Krauze, is concerned about over-promising and disappointment of the masses who chose AMLO overwhelmingly.
I choose to play Abogado del Diablo (Devil’s Advocate); let me suggest, against all odds, “President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) will be good for Mexico, for the border, for Texas, and for the entire USA.” Lucky attendees of the conference at Bob’s will witness a worthwhile debate, with both “cons” and “pros” emerging. On December 1, 2018, when AMLO takes office, the government of Mexico is due for major changes and challenges. The U.S., by that time, will have experienced two years with a president even more unique and unpredictable. Despite misgivings about both presidents, this proposition is couched in positive terms, because most citizens of both countries desire to “make the best” of difficult, often unpredictable situations.
What do we now know? AMLO (and his party, MORENA) won 53 percent of the vote, a landslide, a mandate, a “game-changer.” Furthermore, to set the background, the U.S. and Mexico share the longest border between a developed country and a developing country. The U. S. and Mexico share a long (often turbulent) history together; the past and the fate of each are intertwined, as are their populations. (Mexican Americans make up the largest ethnic minority in the U.S., increasingly significant as consumers and as voters.) Furthermore, Mexico is the U.S.’s second largest export partner; it is third in total trade for the U.S. Economic conditions are improving; undocumented workers are returning with more jobs possible. The OECD predicts the pace of economic growth to become more rapid (Perryman, International Institute of Advanced Studies, cited in Rio Grande Guardian).
In Mexico, MORENA won four of eight contested gubernatorial seats, the government of Mexico City, and a majority in the Congress. Even major constitutional change is possible, if not likely; PRI and PAN are now both minority parties (Antonio Garza, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, cited in Rio Grande Guardian). AMLO has a well educated Cabinet (UNAM, Colegio de Mexico, U.S., Europe). It is nearly formed and is surprisingly, for AMLO haters, “middle of the road,” in the experience and outlooks of its members.
Pluses (in support of the Devil’s Advocate proposition) would include desire and readiness for major change among the majority of the population. Especially crucial for the elections were attitudes about real and perceived corruption and about violence; AMLO was, essentially, a “one-issue” candidate, running against “corruption,” however defined. Minuses would include the usual: 45 percent in poverty, great class and regional inequality, plus the extremely difficult problem(s) of cartels and violence. (AMLO has suggested “negotiating” with cartel leaders. Some look askance. Other reactions: “what have we got to lose?” or “it couldn’t get worse”.)
For Texas and especially the lower Rio Grande region of south Texas (“Valley”), U.S. gains (an improved Mexico) are Texas gains and vice versa. That is, the current major draws, major population centers (Dallas, Houston) will still scoop up the lion’s share of trade gains (if better relations ensue). But gains there will be (unless President Trump actually goes through with further damage to NAFTA and/or other U.S.-Mexican trade relations). But from San Antonio and El Paso to the south Texas Valley, the strong cultural connections will continue. If not interrupted by Trump’s rhetoric (or fear of AMLO’s nationalism), tourism will continue to grow, on both sides. It is already Mexico’s third major source of revenue.
It is true AMLO is “leftist” in rhetoric. Instead of a negative thing, that can and will be a plus: 1) perhaps making moderate (European style) socialism become more understandable and acceptable in the U.S. and 2) assisting conditions to improve internally in Mexico if and when poverty is reduced and class (economic) differentials are reduced. At least, it is essential the masses believe things are trending their way, for a change). But a far left government is not likely. (AMLO admires most Benito Juárez and Franklin Roosevelt.)
AMLO has promised “fiscal and financial discipline;” Alfonso Romo, likely chief of staff, is a skilled interlocutor between AMLO and the skeptical business community, heading one of the largest brokerage houses in Latin America. AMLO has moderated earlier “far out” positions. He doesn’t even come from truly socialist or militant union activism, so his “leftism” is partly mythical. He did, however, when Mayor of Mexico City, give aid to the elderly, banish punishment for small, “street” amounts of marijuana, help the disabled, recognize gay rights, including marriage. He worked with business magnate, Carlos Slim, to revitalize the central district, saving historic, pre-Colombian artifacts and helped start a new, trendy district, Polanco.
AMLO is chiefly know for dedication to helping indigenous peoples, getting his start with agencies charged with aiding Mexico’s ethnic minorities. (He is mestizo himself, so, his ideas plus his identity partly explain some of the fierce opposition he faced; namely, a peculiar brand of Mexican racism.) For the rest of the population, he seeks redistribution of wealth, but within a capitalist system. (“We are going to lower the salaries of those who are on top to increase the salaries of those on the bottom” (Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker, 25 June 2018). Mexico has always been adept at blending or mixing economic systems, as it has cultural systems. Expect indigenous culture to receive more assistance.
Many in the upper class (on both sides of the border) were and still are quite fearful. Yet, many wealthy Mexicans are pragmatic and willing to cooperate. They are also nationalistic (at least the flag, the Virgin, soccer, even their suspicions of U.S. intentions, etc.). They recognize the emotions behind AMLO’s big win. Some, but not many, will be coming to the U.S. with some (not all) their money, to deposit in U.S. (Texas, Valley) banks. If that happens, again, a “win-win.” South Texas gets more capital and (if those who flee are the more disagreeable members of the upper class) a win for many Mexicans, saying a grateful “adios” to those who looked down on them.
Democracy has worked; elections were observed by invited, competent international teams, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Many Mexicans join AMLO in his call for unity, hoping to diminish partisan fears; he avows: “The Fatherland Comes First.” About relations with President Trump? AMLO signals “it is not prudent to take him on directly.” If there is a wall, he will take the complaint to the United Nations, as a violation of human rights. Indeed, Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric was a factor in the nationalism that brought AMLO into office.
About violence? That is the bigger question—perhaps unanswerable at this moment. Time will tell and U.S. cooperation (not rhetoric, not enmity) will be needed. U.S. policy needs to be clarified and moderated, in a cooperative spirit, to allow this new “day” to develop as best it can. Texas policy must be equally responsible, reaching out for trade and other opportunities. Border and Valley hopes can and will be expressed more fully at Bob’s, this week. Come, listen, participate; help make both these two great countries of the Americas even greater.