Return of Latin American Left
Mexico’s new leftist President could be a beacon of hope for the country ambushed by drug cartels, violence and poverty
Andrés Manuel López Obrador popularly called AMLO, took over as the new President of Mexico on December 1, becoming the first president in the country with strong leftwing views and having ambitious pro-people programmes like British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin and US Democratic Party leader Bernie Sanders. In fact, political analysts in Latin America refer to these three as the trio that is setting the agenda of change in their respective countries.
In the last four days since assuming power, AMLO has raised huge expectations among the people of Mexico for a real change in the country's economy and polity. His rating is now at 66 per cent, unprecedented among the politicians of Latin America. In fact, the media is comparing AMLO with the jailed former president of Brazil, Lula De Silva, who also boasted of a high rating despite being put to jail by the rightwing government on forged charges. AMLO is also a good friend of Lula and he claims to belong to the progressive movement in Latin America for radical economic reforms to serve the poor.
As the leftist president sees it, his six-year term beginning December 1 this year is not just another presidency – it is the fourth transformation in Mexico following the independence from Spain, the mid-19th-century political reforms and the Mexican Revolution. He has promised to end corruption, fund social programmes for the poor by saving funds through his anti-corruption measures, transform the neoliberal economy by expanding state control on key sectors, particularly oil, and reduce the incidents of violence including ending the domination of the drug mafia. He has a dream and that is to convert Mexico into a great power of the 21st century. AMLO has created massive enthusiasm among his countrymen and there is a new mood of confidence that finally, change is taking place for the better.
The ground right now is fertile for the Mexican president to take speedy actions but his tasks are tough and he can do it only if he retains his coalition partners together and listens to his well-wishers in the social and trade union movements that have supported him all through. Mexico is one of the most violence-prone countries and the drug cartels are well entrenched in the system with wide political links. 43 per cent of the country's population is taken as poor and common people have become exhausted with the political parties because of the rampant corruption practiced by politicians to gain individual dividend. The new president will encounter the toughest opposition as he starts hitting at the drug mafia and their contacts.
AMLO has promised to increase social spending and cut poverty. He has also initiated an austerity programme and announced a 40 per cent cut in his pay. Under new laws, nobody in Mexico can get a salary more than the president's which is now only USD 5,300 per month. This will infuriate the many rich salary earners of the country. AMLO has also promised not to raise taxes and to respect the central bank's independence. He also just signed the new North American Free Trade Agreement though he has complained about slow growth and stagnant salaries since Mexico embraced free trade. He has also promised no expropriations.
Mexico is Latin America's second-largest economy. Though it is a part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) along with the United States and Canada, Mexico has much in common with the issues that are prevalent in other Latin American countries. US president Donald Trump is in a constant battle with the Mexican government over both trade issues and immigration, causing growing anger among the Mexican population. The defeated president Pefia Nieto, a rightwing politician, had to protest Trump's actions due to the sentiments of his own people, but there was no force in that. Now, the common Mexicans feel that they have a voice and the new president Obrador will be in a position to fight Trump on policy issues at an equal level.
Mexico is among the world's fifteen largest economies. The country is however highly dependent on USA, its largest trading partner and destination for 80 per cent exports. Obrador has declared that his main task will be to fight corruption and he will increase funds for the poor and the common people by saving about USD 20 billion through plugging corrupt practices. He is committed to raising the salaries of the lowest paid workers including increased pensions for the elderly, educational grants for the Mexican youth and additional support for the farmers.
The new president leads the coalition MORENA which is a conglomerate of a number of groups and parties including the leftists and conservatives who are opposed to the status quo in Mexico. He is a good friend of the British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and their programmes are also similar. Just as the British Communist Party is extending conditional support to Corbyn, Obrador is also getting some amount of support from the Mexican Communist Party in his fight against corruption and for improving the conditions of the poor. Obrador has immense respect for the jailed former Brazilian president Lula and wants to introduce the poverty action programme which helped Brazil during Lula's time to raise the living standards of the poor.
His social sector programmes will be receiving wide support but his real battle will be on the issue of dealing with foreign companies, especially the US companies which are operating in Mexico. Obrador has promised to review the contracts for oil exploration awarded to international firms and to respect those that are clean and take legal measures against those that are not. There is pressure from the leftists on him to nationalise the oil industry in view of the corruption practised by foreign oil companies. Pemex is the state-run oil company and the new president has to carefully examine methods to make the oil exploration policy serve the best interests of Mexico. The two earthquakes of September 2017 have damaged the oil sector and services market but 2018 should see a boom in construction activities, according to experts. Oil production accounts for one-third of government revenue and Obrador's task will be to see how the government's share of revenues can be raised from the oil sector.
At the political level, the self-proclaimed leftist president has to take the coalition partners with him including both the leftists and the conservatives who are against the present austerity programmes for the poor. The Left of Latin America has placed high hopes on him. The illegally impeached former president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff has said that Obrador's victory is not just a victory for Mexico, it is for all of Latin America. Argentina's former president Christina Kirchner tweeted that Obrador represents hope not just for Mexico but for the entire region. The Communist parties of Latin America as also other leftist groups feel that the Mexico win will signal the return of progressive winds to Latin America.
That way, the Latin American Left is anxiously watching the actions of AMLO and its impact on Mexican people. If he succeeds, the Latin American Left will receive fresh motivation despite their defeat in Brazil and Argentina.
(The author is Editor-in-Chief, IPA. The views expressed are strictly personal)