Monday, December 03, 2018

Capitalism's man in Mexico

Today, in Mexico, a fifth of the national income is captured by the richest one percent of the population. The number of people estimated to be living in poverty is around 50 million, nine million of them in extreme poverty. For the average Mexican, life is a day-to-day struggle, and most employment is outside of the formal sector. Thousands of young people who see no future for themselves in the legal economy find an outlet for their anger and hopelessness in the drugs gangs.  Last year more than 23,000 homicides were recorded, the highest number in its history.

 Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, ran for president in 2006 on promises to "put the poor first". Opponents likened him to then-President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and launched a campaign branding him "a danger for Mexico". Fierce opposition from business groups cost him the election. After losing the presidential race again in 2012  he formed a new party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA.) The party describes itself as left-wing, but its declaration of principles acknowledges it is open to people of "diverse currents of thought." And it is: ex-members of the right-wing PRI and PAN parties, leaping from sinking ships, have been accepted into the fold.

AMLO has become a friend to all. Harmony and unity, peace and love were the buzzwords of his campaign. Although he has promised to deliver a "radical revolution," he reassured Mexico's elite that they had nothing to fear. There would be no expropriations or nationalisations, he said. Taxes would not be raised and tax-free zones would be created to encourage investment. Nowhere in his policy prescriptions were there any measures that might disturb the oligarchic groups accustomed to having the country run in their interests. 

Representatives of the major business sectors are understandably enthusiastic. The Mexican Business Congress, which once opposed AMLO, held a meeting with his new incarnation and told the press they were looking forward to working with him. They found him "pragmatic," they said. AMLO has met Carlos Slim - Mexico's richest man, the primary beneficiary of the privatisations of the neoliberal period and the supreme example of the concentration of economic power that has stunted the country's economic growth. He praised the billionaire as "a great businessman who has known how to triumph in Mexico." When he spoke to business groups in Monterrey, AMLO was interrupted on three occasions by loud applause; among the most fervent was the representative from FEMSA, Mexico's fifth-largest company and the largest independent bottler of Coca-cola in the world.

In November AMLO announced a National Plan for Peace and Security, which affirms a central role for the military. The new plan, writes Alejandro Madrazo Lajous, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, could be "the culmination of the dream of the right wing on the continent: to bring Mexico closer to a military regime." 

John Lee Anderson of the New Yorker magazine followed AMLO on the campaign trail. "His campaign strategy," he wrote, "seemed simple: make lots of promises and broker whatever alliances were necessary to get elected." Policy prescriptions for sensitive topics were necessarily vague and inoffensive.

The journalist Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez commented on the apparently "opportunistic" nature of AMLO's transformation and accused him of being a conservative.

For Commander Galeano, a representative of the Zapatista movement, the answer was unambiguous. "He is the most right-wing of the four candidates," he told the press. 

The case for the right-wing interpretation was only strengthened when AMLO made his first significant political decision: the selection of his cabinet. It is now clear that the "revolution" will involve the participation of many members of the old guard of Mexican politics. Among them is the new chief of staff, Alfonso Romo, a prominent businessman with interests in finance and the agro-industry, and a former supporter of the right-wing president Vicente Fox. After his appointment, Romo described to the press what he considered to be his challenge: "to convert Mexico into a paradise for investment".

AMLO drives a Volkswagen Jetta and has put the presidential plane up for sale, and he is implementing a policy of austerity on the Mexican bureaucracy, including salary cuts for members of congress. These are not radical policies, but they are popular.  But the friend-to-all is going to have to disappoint someone and we are sure it won't be the rich and powerful.

Adapted from here

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