What will AMLO do with his landslide win?

July 17, 2018

Héctor A. Rivera explains what to look for after the victory of a reformer in Mexico.

MILLIONS OF Mexicans went to the polls earlier this month to express their discontent with the current state of society — and their hope for a better future. They chose Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) by a landslide margin.

AMLO’s resounding victory is clear rejection of the mainstream parties’ program of austerity and repression that have dominated in the era of neoliberalism. But the real challenges for the Mexican working class are still ahead.

How will the country’s business and political elite attempt to counter AMLO’s proposals for change? And what about AMLO himself? Will his rightward shift and stated commitment to maintaining neoliberalism dominate the agenda he pursues now that he will become president?

AMLO got 53.2 percent of the vote on July 1. The next closest candidate, Ricardo Anaya, head of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), received 22.3 percent. The lackluster technocratic candidate representing the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), José Antonio Meade, got only 16.4 percent of the vote.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (center) celebrates victory
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (center) celebrates victory (Wikipedia)

The day after the election, the headlines of Mexican newspapers described the vote with words like “landslide,” “sweep” and “deluge.” AMLO and his political party, the newly created Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA), not only won the presidency, but clear majorities in both houses of Congress.

MORENA also won in five out of the nine states that held governor’s elections, including Veracruz, Morelos, Chiapas, Tabasco — and the crown jewel, Mexico City, which will be led by a woman, Claudia Sheinbaum, for the first time in history.

AMLO’s victory is also a crushing defeat for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), AMLO’s old party, which decided to align with the PAN and PRI after 2012 and voted for a series of devastating neoliberal measures outlined in the “Pact for Mexico,” which was signed by all three regime parties at the beginning of former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reign.

Following this election, all these parties are in crisis: The PRI is thinking of changing its name, the PAN is mired in infighting, and the once center-left PRD might even lose its registration as a political party at the national level.

DESPITE AMLO’s clear mandate at all levels of government, it remains unclear if he and his party will repeal the policies implemented under the Pact for Mexico, such as tax cuts for the rich, privatization of the oil and electricity sectors, a draconian education reform and obsequious concessions for mining corporations and water privatization.

AMLO’s broad-tent MORENA party pulled in many figures from Mexican social movements who have been associated with resistance to the status quo.

For example, the political prisoners Nestora Salgado and José Manuel Mireles — who were jailed by the PRI regime for organizing self-defense movements against organized crime and the police in Guerrero and Michoacán states — will become senators in the incoming government.

Left supporters of AMLO consider these candidacies to be evidence that his government will be open and accountable to social movements. However, MORENA also toned down its leftist rhetoric in the lead-up to the elections. Calls to bring the “Mafia of Power” to justice were replaced by talk of reconciliation and amnesty.

Two days after the election, AMLO gave a press conference in which he revealed some of his initial policy changes.

For one, he won’t use the scandalously expensive presidential plane — akin to Air Force One — and says he will fly commercial instead. AMLO won’t live in the presidential mansion at Los Pinos and will continue to live in his small apartment. He had said he would dismiss the presidential security team, but after some pushback from the establishment, he agreed to keep a small entourage.

These are small, mostly symbolic changes, but AMLO also discussed a more ambitious agenda. Some of these measures are progressive — for example, he wants to disband the secret police and reduce the salaries of politicians and high-ranking government employees.

AMLO’s most substantial reform proposals are very vague, though. For example, he maintains that his battle against corruption will free up significant financial resources to be reinvested in the public sector, but this remains to be seen.

His plan for special economic zones in southern states of Mexico is also vague and sounds like the free trade zones along the U.S. border that exploit Mexican workers for the benefit of U.S. corporations.

In fact, AMLO’s commitment to neoliberalism is one of the only constants in his program. His political team is staffed with technocrats from previous PRI and PAN governments. Alfonso Romo, a capitalist from Monterrey, who is helping to shape AMLO’s economic program, told Forbes magazine in an interview that “Mexico will be a paradise for investors”.

THIS PAST weekend, AMLO received a delegation from the U.S. headed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House hanger-on Jared Kushner.

Ostensibly, the meeting was aimed at “resetting” relations with Mexico, which have been badly strained by Trump’s unhinged calls for Mexico to pay for a border wall.

Unlike previous presidential administrations that came to power based on electoral fraud, AMLO has a clear mandate from the people, and so it won’t be as easy to push him around.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government is clear that it wants Mexico to play a more active role in enforcing its southern border with Central America — and to capitulate on U.S. demands around the North American Free Trade Agreement that will clearly benefit the U.S.

For now, AMLO is in his honeymoon phase, even getting semi-respectful treatment from Donald Trump. But very soon, he and his government will come under a lot of pressure to deliver to all sides: the Mexican working class, the Mexican ruling class and the U.S. political and business elite.

The ruling class and the U.S. establishment are by far the most organized of these sources of pressure. The radical left will have to organize to make sure the urgent call for change that the elections represented isn’t silenced. AMLO and his government need to be held accountable for the reforms they have promised.

It will be important to follow the struggle of the farmers of San Salvador Atenco, who are fighting the construction of a new international airport on the outskirts of Mexico City. This case will be a litmus test for AMLO’s government — and will give the left an indication of what to expect from MORENA.

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