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  • A supporter of Mexican candidate AMLO wears a mask resembling him, while arriving at a soccer stadium for his closing campaign rally, in Mexico City.

    A supporter of Mexican candidate AMLO wears a mask resembling him, while arriving at a soccer stadium for his closing campaign rally, in Mexico City. | Photo: Reuters

Published 29 November 2018
Opinion

Between brutal anti-Left propaganda and decades of neoliberalism, AMLO had to compromise to become Mexico’s president.

After more than 80 years dominating Mexico's political scenario, the Revolutionary Institutional Party and the National Action Party (known together as PRIAN by the opposition) are finally dying out in their present form and paving the way for a new political organization known as the National Renewal Movement (Morena), founded by the country's new hope: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO.

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Running for office for the third time, the 64-year-old politician is a hope for many in a country hurt by twelve bloody years of the so-called “War on Drugs” and decades of a neoliberal economic process, leaving an injured and impoverished country.

Calling himself a leftist, AMLO has promised to take a different approach on security and stop further privatizations, which has earned him the support of a great part of society fed up with the mainstream parties.

But leftist critics and detractors of Lopez Obrador claim he has compromised on important issues just to get in office. His party has embraced PRIAN members running away from their collapsing parties, as well as from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). AMLO says this is part of his own national reconciliation plan, assuming a redemption position that some are not forgiving.

He has also crystallized alliances with Mexico's top economic elite through his “business link” Alfredo Romo, a tycoon that will be his chief of staff, and has proposed a group of special advisers including some of Mexico's riches business people and owners of the mainstream media outlets that he harshly criticized during the 2012 election. 

Now, Lopez Obrador has in his future team the millionaire Miguel Torruco Marques, his future tourism minister; the president of Fundacion Azteca Esteban Moctezuma Barragan, a close friend of Ricardo Salinas Pliego, himself the president of TV Azteca; Marcos Fastlicht, father-in-law of the president of Televisa (the other biggest media outlet) Emilio Azcarraga; and Susana Harp, a traditional singer and nephew of Alfredo Harp Helu, who bought Mexico's national bank when privatized, just to mention a few.

Goldman Sachs, one of the investment banks responsible for the 2007 financial crisis, also published a statement validating AMLO for the international markets.

Alfonso Romo, top economic adviser and chief of staff nominee of Mexico's leftist presidential election front-runner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, speaks to journalists during a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico June 25, 2018. Photo | Reuters

Carlos Slim, Mexico's biggest tycoon and a former ally of the president-elect, supported Lopez Obrador when he backtracked on his promise to cancel the New International Airport of Mexico City. But when he announced a popular consultation to decide over the airport's fate and the people voted against it, Slim wasn't so happy anymore. 

But why is Lopez Obrador venturing in this contradictory, almost schizophrenic narrative that could cost him support from the Mexican left?

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Observers tend to explain his approach and compromise in two arguments: his understanding of the political and social dimensions of the country, which has endured more than four decades of neoliberalism approved and continued by successive presidents and governments and backed by the richest in Mexico.

The other argument is that Mexico, the United States’ southern neighbor, that has fallen a prey to domestic and foreign propaganda, actively attempting to discredit any leftist politician or project by parroting the United States line on progressive governments in the region in Cuba and Venezuela.

Well, it hasn't. This is the third time Lopez Obrador is running for president and he has endured more than a decade of a propaganda war against him. He knows how and from where he is attacked, and now he's taking new measures.

Mexican society is fed up with the traditional names and is willing to give AMLO a try. The choice of the right was divided between the PRIAN candidates, Ricardo Anaya and Jose Antonio Meade, whose parties have a bloody record in their hands.

Over the years politicians and mainstream media outlets compared him to Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro, even though his policies are not even remotely close to theirs, in an attempt to scare voters and make them lean to the right. The same has happened in many Latin American countries, such as Colombia where Petro was accused of being a “castro-chavista.”

Supporters attend the closing campaign rally of Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at the Azteca stadium, in Mexico City, Mexico June 27, 2018. Photo | Reuters

That worked in Colombia's latest elections and in the first two times AMLO ran for president, but not this one. With murder rates at such record high and dozens of people disappearing every day, the least Mexicans care about right now is “turning into a second Venezuela.”

While PRIAN represented the continuation of the “War on Drugs” security policies, AMLO promised a different approach that gave hope to many. Even though he has indeed proposed to increase the number of navy and military, he also proposes addressing the issues of the youth so they don't join organized crime, including better education opportunities, a monthly universal income, programs for social reintegration and the decriminalization of marijuana.

But when he announced the creation of a National Guard, composed by civilians and controlled by the military, many thought the move would only legalize the militarization that has done so much damage to Mexico since 2006. As a response, Lopez Obrador announced he would consult the people over the guard, but that he wouldn't be impartial and would support the project.

His other biggest card is the fight against corruption. The PRIAN is stained in it and few people still believe in them. Even though AMLO started his political career in the now-dying PRI and then joined the crumbling PRD, as many of his followers, the name and colors of his brand new Morena are fresh and have no stain on them.

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In a recent friendly interview at his home with Javier Alatorre, one of his former media enemies and now an indulgent TV Azteca journalist, AMLO said the source of inequality is neither the accumulation of wealth nor the exploitation of the worker, but corruption, putting Marx aside and conveniently distancing from the ghost of “castro-chavismo.”

At the same time, Lopez Obrador is well aware he wouldn't make it into office without a strategic alliance with a part of the business class. The tycoons that are still opposing him, such as German Larrea, are getting isolated.

And to calm waters, even more, Morena's art and culture minister and renowned leftist historian Paco Ignacio Taibo II said that in the party's program “there's no single line about nationalization nor any proposal of the kind.”

Mexico City's main square, known as Zocale, full of supporters of AMLO defending him against his impeachment attempt. August 29, 2004. Photo | EFE

Lopez Obrador's strategic alliance with the right-wing Social Encounter Party (PES), with conservative Christian origins, earned him wide criticism within Morena. The party defines itself as secular and liberal, but its Christian direction results in a conservative platform that opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, except in cases of rape.

However, for Morena's “Together We Will Make History” coalition to miraculously catapult into Mexico's religious and conservative society, the party and its allies had to turn its back on such issues that are highly unpopular among Mexicans.

But in the same PES's congress, Lopez Obrador promised a “moral constitution” to be prepared with social leaders and intellectuals, including religious leaders. He didn't give further details, but this has definitely worried more progressive voters.

Compromising this much shows Lopez Obrador's commitment to becoming president of Mexico. He claimed electoral fraud in 2006 and 2012 and he was not willing to lose again.  During his last campaign, he used to say this time he would go either to Los Pinos (the presidential residence) or to La Chingada (his ranch) after the elections.

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In a move seen as neutralizing his past enemies in order to guarantee his victory this time around he included in his cabinet the right-wing hardliner Manuel Espino, pointed to as responsible for the 2006 fraud and the propaganda war against Lopez Obrador.

There's a traditional Mexican song called “El son de la negra” which says “Tell everyone yes, but don't tell them when” (“A todos diles que si, pero no les digas cuando”). That seems to be AMLO's strategy.

All these contradictions are in part possible due to the vagueness of his promises and program. The ideology of Morena, in great part based on Lopez Obrador's own thinking, is an eclectic mix of narratives that appeal to nationalist sentiments and which he calls “Mexicanismo.”

Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador addresses supporters during his closing campaign rally at the Azteca stadium, in Mexico City, Mexico June 27, 2018. Photo | Reuters

This, coupled with anti-corruption promises, an emotional discourse full of love and reconciliation, plus the support of Mexico's economic and media elites,  gave Lopez Obrador a wide advantage over the runner-up Anaya in July elections.

Lopez Obrador is likely to become the first left-leaning President of Mexico since the presidency of President Lazaro Cardenas some 80 years ago.

For many, Lopez Obrador presents himself as something new, despite compromises with the old guard which he arguably needs to secure the presidency in a country like Mexico with a deep history of neoliberal discourse.

“This rice is already cooked,” said a confident AMLO after a successful meeting with a local business group in Mexico.

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