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Mexico: great expectations

AMLO intends to carry out the "fourth transformation" in Mexico, but the global economic context is unfavorable and the region’s political climate is marked by the rise of the new right. Español

Image: Nueva Sociedad. All Rights Reserved.

Five months after his overwhelming victory at the presidential elections, the "fourth transformation" announced by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is underway now that the leader from Tabasco has received the presidential sash in a ceremony carefully designed to reflect that historical moment.

He presented a discourse full of moralizing and anti-neoliberal declarations in the parliamentary premises, an indigenous purification ritual and the handing over of the baton of command and, finally, a harangue before the crowd gathered at Mexico City’s Zócalo, in which he listed, one after the other, his 100 government commitments.

As was evident on his inauguration day, AMLO embodies change in the political climate of a country overcome with a social crisis generated by three decades of sustained neoliberal policies, which the last 12 years of unrestrained criminal and political violence has only made worse.

In this context, AMLO’s leadership generates hope, expectations and even a certain mystique among significant sectors of the subordinate classes.

He won 30 million votes not only because he pragmatically moved towards the center or because of the weaknesses of his political adversaries (the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the National Action Party and the Democratic Revolution Party), but also because he achieved representation through national-popular identification, and not through commendation or technocratic delegation, as was usual in neoliberal democracy.

In effect, “common”, “ordinary” people recognize and trust AMLO because he is honest and austere, because he speaks in plain colloquial language, because he despises the glitter of power. 

In effect, “common”, “ordinary” people recognize and trust AMLO because he is honest and austere, because he speaks in plain colloquial language, because he despises the glitter of power. Precisely because of this and because of his humble origins, he is despised by the classist and racist oligarchy.

It is to these people that a series of gestures of great symbolism and political impact are dedicated, such as turning the presidential residence of Los Pinos into a public museum, putting the presidential plane on sale, giving up General Staff protection, and the cutting of salaries and perks for the President and high public officials.

Many of the promises made in the Plaza de la Constitución point in the same direction: the crusade against corruption, putting an end to neoliberalism, recovering energy and food sovereignty, extending scholarships and subsidies, raising lower salaries, increasing education and work opportunities, respecting the environment.

"The poor come first, for the good of us all", reads the motto that has accompanied AMLO since 2006. He insisted on this in his inauguration speech.

Between the poor and us all, the boundaries of the "fourth transformation" are marked by the developmental tradition, the reestablishment of State intervention and its redistributive role, within a scheme in which the initiative is still fundamentally in private hands and driven by foreign investment.

Guarantees have been given to these guardians of capitalist dynamics that changes will be made ensuring full continuity and even increasing profits, as sanctioned both in the small print of the electoral program and in the composition of the government alliance, as well as in the statements by the new president and his main ministers and collaborators.

In the case of Mexico, to a greater extent than with other Latin American progressive experiments, the obstacles to passing to a post-neoliberal stage are obvious since, aside from the avowed intentions, the timing for such a move is rather late, coinciding with a juncture which, as AMLO himself admits, is quite unfavorable given "the country is bankrupt".

To this we should add the political context in the region, where North and South wind blows from the right. The process also comes late to the extent that AMLO’s access to power does not correspond to a cycle of anti-neoliberal mobilizations, as in the first half of the decade of 2000, but simply to a widespread rejection of the ruling party elites which only give rise on occasion to protest and social organization dynamics.

This is why, and not only for electoral calculation purposes, the composition of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) and even more so the coalition that supported AMLO's candidacy and that makes up his government, is moderate and quite conservative.

As far as Morena is concerned, it was emptied of its leftist character by its electoral program; it is a party that responds to a vertical logic which is consistent with a caudillista-presidentialist culture.

As far as Morena is concerned, it was emptied of its leftist character by its electoral program. It is a party that responds to a vertical logic which is consistent with a caudillista-presidentialist culture and is structured as an electoral machine, which was built around AMLO’s candidacy in 2012 and which has now been geared to filling in posts in public institutions.

At the same time, pragmatism and moderation presided over the formation of the government, through the allocation of quotas among the allies, political groups and figures who represent or simply offer guarantees to business sectors and other powers that be.

Even in these circumstances, it can be argued that, much as what happened in other countries in the region, it is relatively easy for the new government’s performance to be a distinct improvement from the previous "oligarchic-neoliberal-corrupt" governments, on the appalling shortcomings of which AMLO has insisted, implicitly comparing them to his own personal track record since the late 1980s.

At the same time, his bombastic rhetoric about the historical scope of the "fourth transformation" and the promises he has made are placing popular expectations at such a high level that they can hardly be contained within the framework of a simple comparison.

An evidence of this likely overflow of hope are the 27.500 requests received at AMLO’s Campaign House in the five months following the elections.

Apart from these particular requests, the vote of confidence for AMLO was not so much a vote against neoliberalism but a vote based on the hope that he will address the crossover problems of corruption and insecurity, which have become identified with the previous governing parties.

In both areas, the measures announced by AMLO are committed, but their reach is quite uncertain. The scope of fight against corruption will not be retroactive and, thus it is based on the simple threat of future legal sanctions.

On the other hand, the fight against organized crime depends on prevention, in other words social policies, while a repressive scheme similar to the current one is to be maintained, even though it is relatively inefficient.

A militarized National Guard will be created, to replace the Army and the Navy which are currently carrying out the task.

Some other sensitive issues that have cropped up in this five-month transition should be added, for they define the immediate agenda: the Mexico City airport and the Mayan Train project and the corresponding popular consultations, the initiative to limit excessive bank charges, the repeal of the educational reform, and trade union democratization.

It is by no means certain, moreover, that the sectors of the dominant classes which are currently giving AMLO the benefit of the doubt will not decide to withdraw this sooner rather than later, and that the other sectors, as well as the PRI, the PAN and the PRD and the legal and illegal interests they represent will keep quiet for long.

This is why AMLO is taking advantage of the favorable moment to push his hegemonic plan through the construction of inter-class consensus, both in relation to his allies and opponents.

This can be described as a balance between transformation and evolution, a balance that recalls previous historical experiences and the old, traditional PRI political culture, which kept on expanding and reproducing itself in the opposition, left and right, surrounding it.

It is by no means certain that the sectors of the dominant classes which are currently giving AMLO the benefit of the doubt will not decide to withdraw this sooner rather than later.

Indeed, each of the three historical transformations which AMLO refers to as the basis of the one he intends to promote - independence, reform, and revolution - had its own dose of evolution.

Conservative realignment, particularly focused, as Antonio Gramsci pointed out, on draining the leading groups of the subordinate classes in order to integrate them in the State apparatus as a prior step to their absorption in the conservative camp as operators of the necessary and strictly sufficient reforms to guarantee the substantial continuity of the relations of domination and exploitation.

In Mexico, the reforms including those derived from a social revolution, went through the sieve of ambiguous and contradictory forms of political readjustment that have been called Bonapartist, populist and passively revolutionary.

This was the case in the first three decades of the twentieth century and in the 1960s and 70s, when the push from below and was felt in a much sharper way than in the current conjuncture.

In this sense, apart from the issue of the tension between authoritarianism and democracy - which deserves a specific treatment and is an issue straining the discourse and practice of obradorismo.

It is the popular developmentalist reform that links the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) of the 1930s, to the left of the PRI that extended from the late 1950s to the 1970s, PRD of the decade of 1990 and to the Morena of our days.

In conclusion, in the midst of recurrences and historical ambitions, the dynamics of this new government led by AMLO appears to be creating a precarious balance between progressive and regressive tendencies, between transformation and transformationism.

This article is published in the framework of our collaboration with Nueva Sociedad. A previous verison in Spanish and can be read here

About the author

Massimo Modonesi es un historiador y sociólogo mexicano. Se desempeña como profesor titular de la Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) y es director de la revista Memoria del Centro de Estudios del Movimiento Obrero y Socialista.

Massimo Modonesi is a Mexican historian and sociologist. He is a professor at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the director of the Center of the Workers and Socialist Movement Studies Memoria magazine.


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