Mexico’s recently elected progressive president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, has assumed the monumental task of transforming the age-old mordida system of corruption. Some describe it simply as “the traditional and customary way of getting things done.” The president’s reforms include the noble goal of reducing the notoriously high rates of homicide, linked to the single most corrupt form of economic activity: drug trafficking.
According to the latest reports, the already alarming homicide rate has increased in 2019. The new president cannot be blamed for it since his policies to reduce violence have yet to be implemented. López Obrador expects to turn the trend around once his new national security forces are fully operational. “In addition to expressing confidence that the National Guard will be successful in reducing violence, the president has said that his government’s social programs and crusade against corruption will help pacify the country.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Counter the aggressive forces encouraged by an economy committed to competition and rewarding greed in regions where the authority of local law is undermined by powerful international interests
Mexico now plays a major role not just in international politics, but especially in the news cycle, thanks in large part to US President Donald Trump’s obsession with the US-Mexico border. AMLO’s presidency will be a story for observers of historical trends to watch. His election that took place almost simultaneously with the extreme, right-wing and authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil marks a shift from the recent rightward drift in Latin America. As Guillaume Long, foreign minister under Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, describes it, “the elites that are back in power in many countries are on a real mission of real revenge against these progressive governments that dared to change the status quo, redistribute a little bit of wealth, and kind of diversify relations.”
Following the resignation letter of Finance Minister Carlos Urzúa, who complained about AMLO’s unorthodox approach to the economy, the president held a press conference on July 22, in which he affirmed his intention to combat what he called “people suffering from neoliberal nostalgia.” He implied that Urzúa’s resignation would not be regretted, even if the Financial Times called the departing minister “the strongest voice of fiscal prudence inside the administration,” while expressing its skepticism of AMLO’s ability to do what it sees as any government’s fundamental task: “to re-establish credibility with markets.” This summarizes the neoliberal credo that redefines democracy as a government of the markets, by the markets and for the markets.
In contrast, Bloomberg, a media outlet that also believes in markets, seemed to appreciate AMLO’s consistency when it reported his explanation of the resignation: “In a democratic government there are always differences and disagreements. You have to get used to the changes and there could even be other resignations.” It concluded its article by citing López Obrador again: “This is a government of free men and women,” possibly a more acceptable definition of democracy than the one implied by the Financial Times.
Western media, apart from the Financial Times, have not made up their minds about López Obrador. His right-wing critics, such as the PanAm Post, based in Miami, attempt to identify his strategy with that of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. The late Venezuelan president was widely considered by the US government to be the devil incarnate, whose history proves that socialism — i.e., anything that deviates even slightly from neoliberalism — can never work. The proof, to have its full impact, sometimes requires that the purportedly socialist nation’s economy be systemically undermined by sanctions, clandestine sabotage and its political system constantly subverted or attacked.
CNN, while hardly echoing the dominant neoliberal critique of the Financial Times, projects a more balanced appreciation of AMLO’s accomplishments in his first seven months in office when it tells us “he has led the country to renegotiate a free trade agreement with the US and Canada, and to placate the United States over migration by stepping up controls at Mexico’s southern border.” These are things that will make not only Americans in general but even Donald Trump happy. They can be seen as positive signs that AMLO will not be another Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez or, worse, Nicolás Maduro.
AMLO, like all Mexicans, can never forget the immortal words — originally in Spanish — of Mexico’s 19th-century dictator, Porfirio Diaz, who was ultimately unseated by the Mexican revolution: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” Can any Mexican government free itself from the stranglehold the US has considered as its “responsibility” toward its neighbors ever since the Monroe Doctrine proclaimed in 1823? A year ago, in the aftermath of AMLO’s election, Boston University’s Professor Kevin Gallagher offered this analysis: “Mexico is realizing that it has been overexposed to the U.S., and it’s now trying to hedge its bets.”
In his press conference on July 22, while criticizing the US neoliberalism that he made a point of specifically associating with the name “Clinton,” AMLO vowed to focus on combating corruption, the theme he sees as constituting the greatest obstacle to reforming the economy. Much of US influence in Latin America takes place through a form of corruption that “the markets” see as legitimate. Economic pressure on governments is one thing. Economic and eventually political opportunity for individuals is another.
Guillaume Long summed it up: “There’s clearly a whole agenda of moving away from a progressive foreign policy to a much more kind of, you know, sort of traditional inter-American bond with the United States. Top-down sort of traditional Latin American relationship with the United States and right-wing prerogatives in terms of foreign policy.”
How stable the inter-American bond will be in the coming years remains to be seen. As with the Venezuela crisis that dominated headlines in the first half of 2019, Russia and especially China have increased their presence and influence. As Diálogo Chino writes: “China now sees Latin America as a ‘natural extension’ of its Belt and Road connectivity initiative (BRI).” The flip side is just as obvious, as we learn that “the US has discouraged Latin American countries from cooperating more closely with China,” none more than Mexico itself, where Porforio Diaz’s insight has never been more true.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.