Mary Anastasia O’Grady:
The reinvention of Mexico’s López Obrador
This time the left-wing populist is running as a moderate. Will voters buy it?
This will be a big year for Mexico, with a presidential election in July. Legendary leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador is running as the anticorruption candidate. It’s the 64-year-old’s third run for president, and this time he’s framing himself as a crusader against what he calls a rigged system.
Mexico is an increasingly urban nation with a rising middle class that has widely benefited from economic modernization over the past three decades. Mr. López Obrador has spent a political lifetime fighting this change. From deregulation to constitutional reforms in energy, banking and telecommunications to trade, he has consistently been on the wrong side of history.
Mr. López Obrador does not seem to have given up on his dream to revive Mexican corporatism, in which government intervenes heavily in the economy. But he does recognize that his economic instincts are a liability in a national election. So he’s playing them down and marketing himself as a moderate who will defeat crony capitalism and champion social justice.
The promise to fight corruption strikes a chord with Mexicans, and Mr. López Obrador leads with a plurality in early polling in a race that is likely to feature more than three candidates. But he has two important vulnerabilities. First, there are major contradictions between his economic agenda and the aspirations of the young nation. Second, he is not always viewed by Mexicans as the squeaky-clean messiah he makes himself out to be.
Mr. López Obrador began his political career in Tabasco state as a member of the corporatist Institutional Revolutionary Party, known by the Spanish acronym PRI. He left the PRI in 1989, but not because his politics changed. Rather it was because the PRI had begun to swing toward economic liberalism under the guidance of U.S.-educated technocrats. Mr. López Obrador was among the party stalwarts who bolted to form the socialist Revolutionary Democratic Party, or PRD.
Over the years he has earned a reputation as a populist demagogue who uses the streets when democratic institutions block his path to power. After narrowly losing the presidential race in 2006 to Felipe Calderón, he organized roadblocks and set up camp in Mexico City for months to protest. When he lost in 2012 to Enrique Peña Nieto, he again claimed fraud. In 2014 he launched a new socialist party called the National Regeneration Movement, or Morena.
Mr. López Obrador’s platform promises fiscal and economic stability while redirecting more government resources to infrastructure and spending on health care, pensions and education to foster economic growth. That sounds tame enough. But there is little empirical evidence that countries create wealth via government spending and transfer payments.
There is also reason to doubt Mr. López Obrador’s pledge of moderation. Morena’s “declaration of principles,” posted on its website, asserts that the liberalization of the economy is part of a “regime of oppression, corruption and privileges.” And that it is the work of “a true Mafioso state built by a minority of concentrated political and economic power in Mexico.” If that’s what Mr. López Obrador believes, fixing it would seem to require more of a socialist revolution than he proposes.
Mr. López Obrador’s attempt at branding himself as a paragon of rectitude isn’t selling everywhere. In the town of Iguala, in the southern state of Guerrero, the locals are particularly suspicious, according to a report in the U.S. newspaper La Opinión.
It was in Iguala that 43 college students were arrested by the municipal police in 2014 and never seen again. Investigators now believe the students were handed over to a drug-trafficking gang that is allegedly in control of a faction of the local police.
Residents of Iguala told La Opinión that the gang moved into the town only after José Luis Abarca became its mayor with Mr. López Obrador’s backing. One local told La Opinión that Mr. López Obrador ignored warnings from townspeople that Mr. Abarca had ties to the cartel.
Mr. Abarca is now in jail on charges that he masterminded the disappearance. He has stated that it was “something that I didn’t have anything to do with.” Mr. López Obrador has accused the army, and by extension the federal government, of complicity in the disappearances. He says that if he wins the election he will form a commission to investigate what happened, and “give protection” to those who have been arrested, because “there are many doubts.” He has denied knowing Mr. Abarca, though photos of the two have surfaced. He says he is often photographed with strangers.
In December Mr. López Obrador shocked the nation by proposing amnesty for drug kingpins in exchange for peace with the cartels. In a country that needs to strengthen the rule of law, that raises even more questions about the self-styled anticorruption candidate.
Mary Anastasia O'Grady an Opinion Columnist for The Wall Street Journal, writes "The Americas," a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal . Write to O'Grady@wsj.com. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.
Editor's Note: This commentary was originally published by The Wall Street Journal on January 08, 2018. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Petroleumworld and its owners.
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Petroleumworld News 01/15/2017
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