I’ve been in Mexico for almost thirty years, and in all that time I’ve only been impressed by one politician: Marcelo Ebrard. Mayor of Mexico City between 2006 and 2012, he took some steps to turn Mexico City into a progressive, contemporary capital. Among the initiatives in his administration were making first-trimester abortions legal and available, a law allowing same-sex marriage, and a shared-bike program that today has 444 stations and 6,000 bicycles. Sadly, after the end of his term, he disappeared from view after political rivals leveled unsubstantiated charges of scandal against him, about corruption during the implementation of the city's twelfth subway line.
As for the rest of the politicians, notwithstanding on which party’s ticket they’ve been elected, they all strike me as cut from the same cloth. Left, right and center designations don’t mean much any longer. The supposedly leftist PRD and Morena parties may throw a few more crumbs at the poor to buy their votes. The right-wing PAN may be the most oriented toward business. And the PRI — the National Revolutionary Party, which has been in power for all but 12 of the last 87 years — has distinguished itself by sinking corruption to its lowest, most heinous levels.
But no matter who is in power here, the wealth remains scandalously distributed. Mexico has a GDP of $18,535 per capita, making it the 14th highest in the world. Yet the wealthiest one per cent of the population owns 43 per cent of the wealth, and four people make up nine per cent of the GDP. Needless to say, the distribution of goods and services works a lot better for people with money than for everyone else. Since I arrived in 1990, about half the people in the country have lived at or below the poverty level, and poverty has been increasing in the past few years under the current administration. Mexico City has been listed as the eighth-wealthiest city in the world, yet more than half of the working population survives through the underground economy.
On July 1, Mexicans will vote for the person who will be their president from 2018 to 2024. According to all the polls, the front-runner is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate for the Morena party. He makes a lot of noise that makes him sound like a populist, and indeed, when he was mayor of Mexico City (from 2000 to 2005), he gave out gift cards that could be spent at supermarkets to senior citizens, single mothers, and the disabled. But he was actually pro-business and his most notable projects benefited people with money more than the poor. Here’s a link to a nuanced and even-handed article about him published in Dissent, co-written by Mexican and U.S. academics. It’s a long piece but well worth reading if you want to know about the man — known as AMLO and sometimes as el peje, short for el peje lagarto (a grey freshwater gar common in his home state of Tabasco) — who is likely to be Mexico’s next president.
I have no confidence that López Obrador will make a good president. But neither do I feel he would be a substantially worse one than any whose administrations I've lived through in the past 28 years. What's more, Anaya and Meade, the candidates postulated by the opposing parties this year, are so ludicrous that I'm not going to waste your time writing about them.
The level of hysteria in the public discourse coming from those against AMLO is disarming. His enemies paint him out to be Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, and Donald Trump rolled into one. He has certainly has demonstrated tendencies toward demagoguery. Like Trump, he responds to criticism with tendentious insult rather than considered rebuttal. He has seldom traveled outside Mexico and speaks no languages besides Spanish. But I believe that, on a conscious or unconscious level, many of those who are against him simply don’t believe that he looks or speaks like their conception of a politician (white, patrician, by preference technocratic and foreign-educated). There are hints of racism and classism in the criticism against AMLO. For those who read Spanish, here’s a link to what I believe is a provocative reflection.