[Mexico] How to Explain AMLO’s Victory and What’s Next

Written by Yusef El-Baz

This past July, Mexico experienced an unprecedented presidential election. Mexicans, fed up with the social violence, corruption, and inequality of the past decade, demonstrated their ire by propelling Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), a center-left candidate, to victory. Their overwhelming vote brought down from public office the three dominant parties Mexicans associate with the degradation of their country.
These three parties, the PRI, the PRD, and the PAN shared political power since the fall of Mexico’s one-party rule by the PRI in 2000. Prior to that, the PRI, or the Party of the Institutional Revolution, born in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, dominated Mexican politics for seven decades. They ruled with an iron fist, brazenly stole public funds, and rigged electoral results with impunity. In 2000, Mexicans finally voted the PRI from power, electing PAN candidate Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola Mexico executive, in what many considered a democratic opening in Mexican politics.

A Rising Wave of Struggles against Violence and Exploitation

The decade and a half that followed was anything but a progression from Mexico’s dark political past. On the contrary, Mexico is still a highly stratified society. This inequality is between the haves and the have-nots, but also between regions in Mexico; the industrialized north experienced four times the economic growth than its southern, and more deeply indigenous, regions. Mexico’s economy, subordinated to American and global financial institutions and corporations, stagnates with a low profitability for capital, low labor productivity, and falling wages[1]. Politicians at the highest level continue to be implicated in corruption scandals and murder; these elections witnessed a reported 132 political assassinations of candidates.
Such is the context in which Mexican workers, women, youth, and indigenous people waged critical struggles against the intensified exploitation and violence of imperialism. In 2014, the kidnapping and murder of 43 student teachers of Ayotzinapa, in Mexico’s southern state of Guerrero, at the hands of drug cartels and the state, unleashed a mass movement which called for an independent investigation of the kidnapping and the ouster of then-president Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI.  Mexico’s teachers, particularly in the impoverished south, are some of the best organized and fiercest fighters for justice. Their collective power is reflected in the Mexican state’s brutality towards them.
A 2016 strike in Oaxaca, led by the CNTE (National Coordinator of Education Workers) – the radical teacher’s caucus within the national teachers’ union – organized work stoppages and mobilizations against the neoliberal education reform and repression of labor organizers in their ranks. In the course of the struggle, the Mexican federal police shot and murdered at least six protesters, further fueling mass mobilizations, highway blockades, and occupations throughout southern Mexico and Mexico City, including mass marches of healthcare workers who marched in 19 of Mexico’s 31 states in solidarity with the teachers and against neoliberal reforms to the health sector.
Mexico’s gender-based violence against working women has also played an important if understated role in the development of the political process we see unfolding today. The ever-increasing kidnappings and killings of women in Mexico – and Latin America in general – continues with the passivity, silence, and active participation of the government and drug cartels. Politically active women are particularly vulnerable to this violence; last month, a neighborhood leader by the name of “Clementina” was found dead in Mexico City – femicide capital in the region – sparking militant outrage in which protesters set aflame the home of the accused murderer. Sexual violence is a key weapon in the Mexican state’s arsenal of terror against the working class. During so-called ‘Oaxaca Commune’ in 2006 in which the people of the city of Oaxaca ousted the state in a temporary working class takeover, the federal police responded with widespread sexual violence and torture in an attempt to pacify the militant women. Such is the response of the Mexican government to this highpoint of recent revolutionary feminist struggle in Latin America.
Building on the momentum of the Argentinian women’s fight for legal abortion, the “green wave” – in reference to the green handkerchiefs its supporters don – has spread into Mexico, providing visibility to a movement which has fought for abortion rights. This could stem the marginalization and deaths of countless of poor and working class Mexican women. Lopez Obrador, known for his stances on corruption and inequality, has been consistently quiet and even reactionary in his views on abortion and LGBTQ rights.
As mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005, Lopez-Obrador implemented social programs which generated his persona as a fighter for the poor. At the same time, he refused to legalize gay marriage or decriminalize abortion. In a 2015 interview, he regarded these issues as not as important as the fight against corruption[2]. His campaign team was joined by the Social Encounter party (PES), a smaller-yet-influential Christian Evangelical organization pushing hard to maintain the illegality of gay marriage and abortion. Lopez Obrador attempts to combine a left-wing rhetoric around inequality and a critique against the powers-that-be with an appeal to a latent social conservatism among Mexicans. In fact, Lopez Obrador would not have gathered enough votes to win the election without the PES at his side.

AMLO’s Fight Against Corruption: Promises and Reality

Lopez-Obrador’s principal banner is the fight against corruption. Promising a rise in the minimum wage and broad social programs to alleviate poverty, he states he will do so without raising taxes but by fighting the pay-to-play” system that characterizes Mexican politics. He is, however, unclear on how he will do so beyond setting the moral example of not living in the presidential mansion and slashing the salaries of high-ranking government officials, including his own.
Corruption is part of the sinew of everyday Mexican life – it is taken as a given by millions that politicians will take what they can while they can, and that the working population must constantly bribe government officials to receive public services. Yet corruption, for all the moral degradation and frustration it rightly produces, is a symptom of Mexico’s subordination to imperialist financial institutions and organizations. Thus corruption is not a fate for Mexico, it is the direct product of the semi-colonial status to which the country has been subjected  since the failure to win a true national independence in the 1910 revolution. It will only vanish when these conditions cease to exist, no matter how “trustworthy” the new administrator of misery claims to be.
Mexico is formally independent, with its own constitution, political system, and laws. Beyond the veil, though, Mexico is in reality tightly controlled primarily by American corporations and their financial backers in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (WB). Mexico’s manufacturing, oil, mining, and natural resources remain in the hands of these global capitalist organizations, which profit daily from the exploitation of low-wage workers and the plunder of natural resources. Mexico’s capitalist elite form both a ruling class within Mexico and an intermediary between imperialist capital and Mexico’s vast social and natural wealth. Corruption stems from this unequal global arrangement, where Mexico’s rulers cut deals with international capitalists that provide for the most profitable conditions for these investors: low wages, control over workers, low tax rates, and in return find themselves in the right place to wantonly steal public funds. This practice is embedded in the capitalist hierarchy and cannot be ended through appealing to the morality of politicians.
Mexico’s public debt stands at twenty-five billion dollars, which is the equivalent of the 46% of its GDP.[3] Generated through high-interest rates imposed by international lending organizations with the purpose of increasing imperialist profits and privatizing social programs and natural resources, it is Mexico’s working-class which is expected to pay this debt through their taxes and the continued theft of Mexico’s natural wealth.. Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador has absolutely no intention, contrary to his right-wing opponents’ claims, of challenging this structural arrangement. Regardless of Lopez-Obrador’s intentions or individual actions, he is now a leading member of a socio-economic structure created for the purpose of gutting Mexico’s wealth to benefit foreign corporations and their wealthy Mexican allies.
During his campaign, AMLO, as he is often referred to, criticized this “mafia in power” for generating inequality and stealing public funds. Now in office, he has prioritized meeting with this very corporate and financial elite in order to create a new ruling consensus around his regime. In fact, his “National Project 2018-2024” was developed by millionaire Alfonso Romo, an agro-industrialist who also sits in the World Bank’s External Advisory Committee for Latin and America and the Caribbean.[4] He will guarantee them what every Mexican president before him has guaranteed imperialism: a welcoming climate for international investors and  on precarious conditions for working people.
AMLO represents, for the bourgeoisie, an attempt to regain stability and legitimacy, both which it had lost in the previous years.. His cabinet is staffed by former members of the hated and deposed parties, who plan on continuing the neoliberal practices – the rise in gasoline prices, the privatization of oil and education, the construction of a new Mexico City airport – which generated the discontent that contributed to AMLO’s rise.

What AMLO Can’t and Won’t Change, But Working People Can

Whereas before his presidency he railed against NAFTA for the poverty it generated, AMLO has now spoken cordially with Donald Trump, invited him to his inaugural ceremony, and signed a new trade agreement with the United States. This new trade agreement, among other things, seeks to tighten restrictions around “intellectual property”, another way of phrasing its intent to guarantee profitable conditions for automotive, technological, pharmaceutical, and other major corporations. In addition, it raises the percentage of auto parts that must be produced in the US to above 70% an attempt to counter the Asian market. It also calls for 45% of auto parts to be produced in regions that guarantee workers at least $16 per hour. As far as agriculture, the agreement is commerce free from any kind of subsidies and tariffs. In all, this new agreement looks to rearrange capital’s supply chains to favor capital accumulation in American dominated markets[5]. What remains to be seen is how the major capitalists affected by this deal will react; it seems highly unlikely that American companies profiting from investment in  Mexico will choose to move production to the U.S..
The White House favors the heavy militarization of the Mexican state under the guise of fighting drug cartels and violence, but which actually aims to protect American investment and generate political stability for the Mexican ruling class. In response to police corruption, the Mexican state deploys its military on the streets with the supposed purpose of responding to the drug trade. What we see, rather, is the continued collusion of Mexican state institutions with drug cartels and the use of the military to repress worker and popular movements.
AMLO cannot deliver on his promises – which he is already softening – because he is alliance with sectors of the Mexican bourgeoisie and is unwilling to challenge Mexico’s subordination to American imperialism: the foundation of Mexico’s corruption, violence, and inequality. In broader context, AMLO’s victory comes at a time of economic crisis and the rise of the Right in places like Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, and national uprisings as in the case with Nicaragua. American imperialism is on the offensive with the fall of the “pink tide” governments in Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil, among others, and will seek to reestablish its domination over its “backyard.” AMLO’s regime cannot be considered a threat to American imperialism as Chavez was; AMLO has no intention of nationalizing industry or ousting the bourgeoisie of its political power.
In moments such as these, it is critical to remember that official politics reflect shifts in the thinking and behavior of the masses who, after all, are the primary movers of history. AMLO’s victory represents a thunderous shake-up in Mexico, where the combination of exploitation and oppression and the accumulation of social struggles produces a crisis which the rulers cannot effectively deal with. Mexicans lost all respect for the dominant parties and expect fundamental changes with Lopez-Obrador in power. Given his moderate program and the desires of ordinary Mexicans for improvement in their living conditions, for peace, for respect towards their social and natural wealth, we can expect profound convulsions in the coming months and years as a result of this clash of interests.
The source of change will be the workplaces, the streets, and public institutions. Mexico has a powerful industrial proletariat in the automotive, electronic, and mining sectors, centered primarily in the northern regions, closest to the United States. These workers have waged important struggles for unionization, wages, benefits, and political rights and will play a central role in the outcome of this phase of class struggle given their labor at the heart of Mexico’s economy. Teachers, particularly in southern Mexico, also have an opportunity to intensify their struggle against the privatization of public education. Labor in general will need to contest a powerful and virulent labor bureaucracy hell-bent on dominating and repressing independent working class initiative; it is important to note that Lopez-Obrador has close relationships with top members of the labor bureaucracy and will expect them to continue to repress labor militancy.
The Mexican working-class, with aspirations for a better future, will fight and learn much from this experience with Lopez-Obrador. It is an opportunity to deepen the struggle around living conditions, labor rights, peace, and social and democratic demands. For socialists in the United States, it is our role as internationalists to support them in their struggle, expose American imperialism, and build the material, solidaristic connections with Mexican workers, as we forge an international revolutionary organization that can unite our class across borders and nations.
[1] https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/mexico-violence-corruption-and-inequality-amlo-to-the-rescue/
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/27/mexico-election-candidates-avoid-stances-on-same-sex-marriage-and-abortion
[3] https://tradingeconomics.com/mexico/government-debt-to-gdp
[4] https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/video/amlo-transicion-empresarios-respaldo-intvw-alfonso-romo-perspectivas-mexico/
[5] http://www.laizquierdadiario.mx/Trump-festeja-acuerdo-preliminar-con-Mexico-en-TLCAN-Canada-continua-sin-reintegrarse?id_rubrique=1714

Leave a Reply