By Matt Kennard
Mexico is in a deep and long crisis. The “Drug War” was taken to new heights by conservative President Felipe Calderón after he took office in December 2006 and the resulting violence has left an estimated 50,000 people dead. Calderon’s decision to send the military in to try to break the cartels’ stranglehold has destroyed millions of lives, while achieving very little, if anything. As the Mexican presidential elections take place on Sunday, large swathes of the north of the country remain outside the control of the federal government.
Over the past six years, Calderón’s conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) has meanwhile presided over an economic model lauded by the Bretton Woods institutions and Financial Times editorials – i.e. high growth rates, big booty for foreign investors, and (this bit is kept quiet) yawning inequality. For example, the country’s growth was 5.5 per cent in 2010, the highest in 10 years, but that same year the number of Mexicans living in poverty grew by more than 3m, putting 52m Mexicans below the poverty line, or nearly half the population. The FT calls such a state of affairs “bloody but booming”.
There is only one candidate standing in the presidential elections on Sunday that can reverse, or at least attenuate, the nightmare many Mexicans – mostly the poor and destitute – have been living through over the past six years, and before. His name is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO to his supporters.A life-long leftist and battler for the poor, AMLO has a sterling record on enacting liberal social reforms and economic justice. His five-year spell as Mayor of Mexico City saw him pass a raft of liberal and politically courageous pieces of legislation, including legalizing abortion and gay marriage (both firsts in Latin America at the time).
To understand how brave such gambits were consider that Mexico is still a traditional and devout Catholic country. He also enacted economic programs which transferred cash to some of the capital’s most desperate people – the homeless, single mothers, abused women, amongst others. Such progressive reforms have therefore made him many powerful enemies in the country’s economic oligarchy and media elite.
His programme for Mexico now is the only one that could deal with the obscene inequality that blights the country, while bringing to an end Calderon’s ruinous and pointless militarisation of the drug war. AMLO has said that the drugs policy has produced no significant results and therefore Mexican soldiers would be “returned to their quarters within six months.” Instead, he proposes a program of creating 1.2m jobs every year, focusing on employment for the poor living in the rural areas that are the fiefdoms of the narcos. Everyone knows that most of the young coming up in backwaters of Sinaloa and other northern states choose the drugs trade because their only other option is a life of penury. It’s not rocket science, although the Mexican government has perennially refused to approach the situation from this angle.
AMLO has also importantly reached out to the Zapatistas – still one of the world’s most exciting and noble indigenous and popular movements. “I want to make an appeal to those who, from oppression, authoritarianism and poverty, rose up in rebellion in 1994,” he has said, referring to the Chiapas uprising on the first day of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). That free trade agreement itself has helped to destroy large parts of the previously-thriving industrial base in Mexico, giving the narcos even more unemployed cannon fodder in which to get a grip on the country. As the New York Times puts it: “Nafta produced results that were exactly the opposite of what was promised … domestic industries were dismantled as multinationals imported parts from their own suppliers.”
The current leader in the election polls is the unctuous, pretty-boy Enrique Peña Nieto, whose family have been part of the Mexican oligarchy for generations. He might as well have been biogenetically created in the offices of the State Department in Washington, and his policies basically have been. His economic program will continue the stagnation experienced for Mexico’s poor under Nafta, with his main campaign shibboleth being the prize of “foreign investment” as a panacea to all Mexico’s troubles. That may help his friends in the oligarchy, but the 99 per cent of Mexicans will miss out again.
Enrique Pena Nieto has even said he will “reform” Pemex, the country’s gargantuan national oil company, with more private sector involvement, which many believe is code for part (or full) privatisation. He cannot say it outright because the company – although riven with its own corruption – is popular amongst Mexicans, much like Argentina’s YPF continues to be (foreign capitalists often have a hard time understanding this).
But Nieto’s policies have made him the chosen candidate of Mexico’s oligarchy and the imperial neighbours upstairs (the US) whose studded-boots continue to crush the Mexican people. The Guardian recently revealed that Mexico’s biggest television network – like most in Latin America controlled by far-right oligarchs – had sold Nieto favourable coverage, while smearing AMLO. And the US we can be sure is also working flat out to prevent AMLO getting anywhere near the presidency. Fresh from a right-wing “judicial” coup against the democratically-elected president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, and with the destruction of Honduran democracy still fresh in the memory, the US will not be hoping for another independent leader in their “backyard”.
While the local imperial power alongside the native oligarchy push for Nieto, there remains hope – the powers that be still cannot control the Mexican 99 per cent, which is a highly-engaged population. A large-scale student movement, called Yo Soy 132, has been building over the past month and has helped AMLO rise exponentially in the polls. Some have already been calling it a “Mexican Spring”, with big protests (and disruptions at Nieto’s gatherings) commonplace now, and there is no doubt of its impact. A poll this month by Reforma – one of the biggest newspapers in Mexico – put AMLO just 4 percentage points behind Nieto. To understand how significant that is consider that just three months before, in March, in the same poll AMLO was 23 percentage points behind his nearest rival. In the last election, in 2006, AMLO lost by just 1 percentage point to Calderón, in what some say was a fraudulent result. But the next six years of Mexican history may be even more critical for its long-term future, there is much to repair and heal. For this reason, only AMLO can save Mexico.