Previously published at yemenity2010
Our world is full of abbreviations. CIA, FBI, KGB, CCCP (in case you remember the Cold War), JFK, BBC, CNN, UN… Recognized all of those? This summer in Mexico, four letters towered above everything else: AMLO. A shorter way of referring to Mr Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Some six weeks ago he was elected the next president of a country that presents a real challenge for anyone who dares aspire to the presidency. More than 100 million people with distinctly different ideas on how to prioritize and deal with the problems at hand. Which are plenty. Now, AMLO is not just anyone. A veteran politician on the Left (or at least used to be) who lost two previous presidential elections, at least in one case a fiercely contested one where some people still think he was cheated out of winning, one way or the other. This time around the competition was virtually annihilated. Election Day happened to take place during my first week of this year’s vacations in my wife’s homeland. She was one of millions of Mexicans casting their vote that day, a day that might be the starting point for some profound changes in the country. Might be. Remember that. The challenges are numerous. Obrador may have left the other three other candidates way behind, but real work is about to begin in a few months when he takes office.
One obvious result is that the shared hegemony of the two previously most powerful parties PRI and PAN has been, well… Smashed. Obliterated. The new president-elect and his movement named Morena now has the opportunity to create something new. At least that’s what many people hope for. Real change. Rampant corruption and disappointing performances from elected officials in general have been the norm for a long time. So, is AMLO a Mexican Trump, or Macron, or what exactly? How much of an ideologue versus pragmatist, populist versus real game-changer is he? These things are never easy to sort out in Mexico, as far as I can tell. Nothing is simply black and white. I admit I find it really difficult to define what the dominant parties actually represent. PRI might have some sort of Social Democrat platform in theory but more than anything it seems to be about power itself, institutionalizing and infiltrating every level of society. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (yeah, that’s what it means) was basically in power uninterrupted from the late 1920’s until 2000 when the more outspokenly conservative PAN won the presidential election through Vicente Fox, followed six years later by Felipe Calderón.
When PRI recovered and regained the presidency 2012 they presented themselves as a reformed party with a fresh face and old sins washed away. Sort of. Six years later you would be hard pressed to find people expressing enthusiastic support for the outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto. Several corruption scandals and shocking outbursts of violence in different forms – in a nation unfortunately accustomed to both – contributed to that.
The widespread discontent with both of these behemoths have been skillfully exploited by Obrador and his Morena movement. Many political pundits agree on that. The president-elect (and former mayor of Mexico City) has always marketed himself as anti-elite and anti-establishment, according to Denise Dresser, professor and political analyst in Mexico City, interviewed by NPR:s Latino USA after the elections in early July. Since corruption in government not exactly has decreased recently, it seems his message has been proven effective, more so than ever before. On the other hand, he received criticism for changing the government strategy in dealing with mighty drug cartels and even suggesting amnesty for some people involved in the drug trade. He’s had to clarify his position and doesn’t appear to suggest that the most powerful barons would be included in that offer. Rather, people at the lower rungs such as farmers growing the crops in question. Not surprisingly, he’s also implied to stand up more forcefully to the president of the northern neighbour (you know who) than Mr Peña Nieto, who currently appears to enjoy the support of maybe 20 percent of the population. Expectations are high, but you need to be realistic, in Dresser’s opinion. This is not the first time in history that the Mexican people started to hope for some significant improvements overall, only to end up disappointed.
During the weeks after the election, many posters and other forms of political advertisement were still very visible, wherever you went. Most of all, the propaganda for Morena which did well not only in the presidential election, but also the congressional and local elections held simultaneously. One afternoon in late July, a leak affected the running water in northeastern city of Matamoros where my wife’s family resides and we stayed at the time. For some 15 or 20 hours, taps were dried up in several parts of the city, including our barrio. Some people suggested, seemingly half-jokingly, that outgoing local municipal president was behind it, a supposed revenge for the disappointing outcome a few weeks earlier. Oh, maybe I ought to mention the transition period, which in Mexico extends to several months. December, that’s when newly elected officials, including Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will be sworn in. What kind of significant changes will take place then? Hopefully there are still reasons to stay… Well, hopeful.