May 18, 2005

The Populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico

Go read an other profile of Andrés Manuel López Obrador the mayor of Mexico City and candidate for President of Mexico.
The son of a small-town storekeeper, López Obrador (often referred to by his initials: AMLO) is from the southern state of Tabasco. He began his political career championing causes of the poor, among whom he lived. He ran for governor twice as an independent in elections that many claim were stolen by the PRI. Later, he moved to Mexico City to chair the newly formed leftist Partido de la Revolución (PRD) and was elected mayor five years ago.

His immediately launched job-creation projects, put more money into health and education, and provided subsidies for the elderly. In one well-publicized move, he forced several millionaires to give up property they had illegally taken in the city’s largest public park. He lives modestly; he drives an old car; and he holds press conferences at 6:30 in the morning to dominate the day’s news. [...]

If elected, López Obrador would certainly be more like Brazil’s Lula – who has toned down his populism to accommodate the international financiers -- than like Chávez. As mayor, López Obrador has worked well with much of the city’s business community, brought in new investment, and even hired Rudy Giuliani to advise on how to curb street crime.

But the Washington establishment these days shoots anything that even mildly moves left. It is tone-deaf to the failure of corporate neoliberalism to fulfill its promises to relieve poverty and exploitation south of our border -- stubbornly insisting that the way to eliminate poverty is through “reforms” that make the rich richer. The recent unprecedented rejection of the U.S. candidate (the present foreign minister of Mexico) to head the Organization of American States reflects that the disappointment with U.S. leadership has reached into the governing classes as well.

With the Mexican presidential election more than one year away, the outcome is of course far from certain. López Obrador’s party is organizationally weak in many parts of the country; his opponents will have more money; and the Mexican oligarchs are skilled in manipulating election returns. But so far he has proved himself a formidable politician.

In any event, American progressives should watch this closely. Who knows? A victory for AMLO in 2006 might help inspire a more populist politics north of the border in 2008.
I am all for populist politics north and south of the border. Andrés Manuel López Obrador is my candidate for President of Mexico.


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