Monday, June 25, 2012

Ladies & gentlemen, Contestant #2

Mexican elections are this coming Sunday July 1st. You know who's going to win?

This guy.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, otherwise known as AMLO, or, if you're *really* a fan, AMLOVE. A tad too purple for me (you know how I'm all about banning purple prose these days), but you're free to spread your AMLOVE if you want.

At least, those of us with a halfway operating brain hope he wins, because alternatives are dire indeed. Presidential elections this year aren't a matter of who's best, but who's least worse.

Who is he, the crowd whispers. Where did he come from? What does he do? More importantly, what will he do?

You're not alone. Everyone in Mexico is wondering that, too. But they got one over you--they've known this guy for thirty years. Now, I can't turn back time for you, but I can cram those thirty years into a few (I hope) lines and hope it's enough so you'll understand the stakes here.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador is unwieldy. Not just because of the character count, but also because every time I write it I have to change my keyboard to Spanish characters in order to make the é in Andrés and the ó in López. So we'll go with AMLO, okay?

AMLO "taking oath" as legitimate
president of Mexico
November 2006
Technically he's disqualified from running for president. According to him (and, to be fair, to millions of Mexican supporters), he won the 2006 elections. Felipe Calderón got sworn into office, but AMLO insisted the elections were fixed, corrupt, unfair, whatnot, and declared himself "legitimate President of Mexico". 

Admittedly, the margin of 0.56% was so small as to be insignificant--almost. But federal tribunals in charge of those things declared it was significant, and thus Monsieur Calderón became president.

AMLO set up a tent outside the Government Palace of Mexico City and "ruled"--okay, harangued masses of supporters--from there for a while.

He set up a committee to follow President Calderón's every action. He held a rally on September 15th, Independence Day. He blocked Mexico City's main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma, with a march that severely impaired the already hobbled traffic in this 25-million-inhabitant city. 

A protest of this magnitude had never before been seen in Mexico. A confrontation of this magnitude, not just of PRD vs. the world, but of Mexico looking at itself in a harsh mirror. Elena Poniatowska wrote an awesome book about the social and psychological implications. It was fifty days of hope for a big slice of Mexicans, people who'd never tasted it before.

The zócalo in Mexico City for 50 days after
the 2006 elections. Yellow is the PRD color.

In another country consequences would have been serious. In Mexico, 56% of the people agreed AMLO's actions constituted an affront to democratic institutions and, right or not, had to stop. AMLO himself never instigated violence; on the contrary, his haranguing always included an admonition to proceed within the frame of the law and in peace. 

Mexicans, you see, don't like to rock the boat. And it may be precisely this leave-the-boat-alone mentality that results in the PRI coming back to power (eternal damnation to whoever crosses PRI on their voting cards, Amen).

But Calderón's policies began to reflect--almost mimic--those proposed by AMLO. In the end, although AMLO didn't occupy the presidential chair (officially), the country did benefit from his plantón in the capital's zocalo. Of course, Calderón will always say those policies were his intent from the start. Yadda yadda.

Felipe Calderón, current
President of Mexico
AMLO has a good chance of becoming president for real this time. Better than good. Why? One: people are disappointed with Calderón and the PAN (more about them in a later post). Mexico believed ousting the PRI was enough, and when that happened in 2000, everyone thought--yay, we're good now. As if clearing the PRI out of Los Pinos (the Mexican White House) was a panacea in and of itself. 

Yeah. No.

And two, of four presidential candidates, the only one besides AMLO with a fighting chance is EPN, the PRI guy we discussed before

Yeah. Also no.

The PAN girl, Josefina Vazquez Mota, and the PANAL guy, Gabriel Quadri, we'll go into later. Suffice it to say, they're two lonely snowflakes drifting down into the toasty abode of Hades.

That leaves AMLO.

Who is he? Guy was born in Tabasco, a state in the Mexican Southeast (see map), in 1953. Uh-huh, no spring chicken. He joined the PRI--yeah, that root of all Mexican evil--in 1976. The PRI, as most parties do, had different factions, and one of them split off in the mid-eighties to form the PRD (Partido de la Revolucion Democratica). Funny that the country's ONLY left-wing party sprouted from the very-right-wing PRI. That's Mexico.

Anyhoo. AMLO became national president of the PRD for the last half of the nineties. In 1996 he gained national recognition for standing by the side of indigenous communities in Tabasco while they blocked PEMEX facilities in protest. The confrontation turned violent, AMLO got blood spattered on his shirt, a serendipitous photographer snapped a picture, a fluky camera rolled, and--bam. AMLO became an icon for human rights.

In 2000 his career took a leap. He was elected mayor of Mexico City, a political position that comes with a lot of flak. He--honestly--did an awesome job.

His policies included, maybe for the first time, significant actions to help the people our culture tends to sweep under the carpet: single moms (highly highly looked down upon in Mexico), senior citizens, people with physical and mental disabilities. He hired Rudy Giuliani as counsel to establish a zero-tolerance policy to deal with escalating crime in Mexico City. Together with Carlos Slim (check Forbes--richest man in the world) he gentrified much of the downtown area, previously falling apart, and restored historical buildings. He used fiscal incentives to incite private investment in public housing. Traffic--always a headache in the city--improved through several projects.

Bottom line: when he finished his term, reports said he'd made good on 80% of his promises. Unprecedented, by Mexican standards.

And now he wants to be President.

Would I vote for him? Probably, yes. Why not an unleashed declaration of loyalty? Well... Left-wing, in Mexico, is somewhat iffy. Like I said, it's a PRI child. And, like with most left-wing governments in the world, I'm suspicious of populism. It's an easy way to gain votes, promising a roof and food to the poor. It's a lot harder to actually make it happen.

Leftist governments tend to be more nationally introspective. Internal policies, internal issues. I agree Mexico needs this--desperately, even. How can anyone talk about establishing more free-trade agreements, more double-taxation treaties, when people are literally dying of hunger, murdered with impunity? Unacceptable, yes.

I'm no Robin Hood, strip-the-rich-to-feed-the-poor advocate. I believe your hard work should earn you a comfortable living, and if you've made money through honest labor, kudos to you. May it multiply gazillion times for you.

I do believe, however, that any society that cannot guarantee five things for its members needs serious soul-searching. Guarantee free access to these five things and you've got yourself my respect. 

Shelter. Food. Medical care. Education. Opportunities. None of them--none--are guaranteed in Mexico today. 

Can AMLO do that?

He seems to think so. So does a pretty significant chunk of the country. After the poll scandal a couple of weeks ago, it's hard to get reliable results, but the average for AMLO seems to be 30%. Still under our friend EPN (at 40-something), but I have hope.

In the end, the only poll that counts is the one next Sunday.

1 comment :

  1. good luck to Mr AMLO.
    Sounds as wretched as Indian politics.
    All of us believe these poltis are chor log. Amass wealth for their children and grandchildren they will, but if they also work then they'll be doing us all a favor.
    so good luck Mr AMLO


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