Mexicans have spoken, and they’ve spoken loudly. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, by now a household name even outside the country, will take office in a few months with a stronger mandate than any of his predecessors.
Altamar’s 23rd episode takes a close look the man afforded every epithet under the sun by domestic and foreign observers. Will AMLO be a Mexican Trump? A Mexican Chávez? A leftist revolutionary? A pragmatic centrist? A disruptor? Or an establishment continuation?
To discuss, Peter and Muni brought in Carlos Bravo Regidor, one of Mexico’s top political analysts and director of the journalism program at Meixco’s prestigious CIDE institute, and Mark Feierstein, former Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs on President Obama’s National Security Council and a senior advisor with the Albright Stonebridge Group.
Mark and Carlos both seemed sure of one thing: we may not know exactly how AMLO is going to govern, but we have a pretty good idea of how he’s not going to govern.
During the campaign, there was no shortage of editorials and thinkpieces in Mexican and US media warning that, if elected, AMLO would bring a Chávez-like rupture to Mexico, one that would plunge the country into Bolivarian chaos.
Mark says that even if AMLO did aspire to such a rupture—which his tenure as Mexico City mayor suggests he doesn’t—he wouldn’t find in Mexican society any of the conditions necessary for it.
“AMLO’s support wasn’t stratified—it spanned all socioeconomic classes, unlike that of Lula, Chávez, Ortega,” he notes.
“And Mexicans have a pretty pragmatic outlook on various issues. From our polling, we’ve found them very supportive of free trade, of NAFTA, of foreign investment, of the domestic private sector. Mexico just doesn’t have an environment that’s conducive to ‘class warfare.’”
Peter agrees that the alarmism surrounding AMLO’s campaign required turning a blind eye to the political and economic realities of Mexico in 2018—the country isn’t poised for any kind of radical change. But, he wonders, isn’t there danger in AMLO being just like his predecessors?
“AMLO converted himself this time into a much safer definition of change,” he says. “But still, during this campaign he was making pretty much the same promises that any other Mexican politician makes: clean governance, safety, economic growth for all. They were just packaged in loftier language.”
Muni shares in his skepticism, but for her, the real concern isn’t that AMLO ends up as just another Fox or Calderón or Peña Nieto, but rather that he gets even less done than his predecessors.
“Remember when Peña Nieto came into office, he at least already had these plans and reforms drawn up. We’re not even seeing that from AMLO,” she warns.
Still, while Muni worries about an abundance of rhetoric and a lack of substance, she does concede that AMLO’s cabinet—so far—seems well positioned to create a real policy agenda in the months ahead.
Of course, for Americans, the intrigue surrounding this election had less to do with domestic politics south of the Rio Grande, and more to do with the Rio Grande itself. What will become of the US-Mexico relationship—and the 2,000 mile border that undergirds it—under an AMLO presidency?
Carlos says that there, too, we have less cause for concern than the past year’s op-eds would lead us to believe.
“This ‘apocalypse’ that some people are fearing in US-Mexico relations, in some respects, has already happened,” Carlos says.
“And it didn’t happen because AMLO won; it happened because Trump won. The difference AMLO could make in the relationship is, frankly, anecdotal in comparison with the disruption that Trump’s election has already caused.”
That, he notes, should give us hope. Despite the bluster and bombast coming from the White House over the past year and half, there is no wall, security cooperation hasn’t stopped, and cross-border trade remains a lynchpin of both countries’ economies. The US-Mexico relationship is, frankly, too important for any combination of presidents—even AMLO and Trump—to unravel.