How is Mexico’s Fourth Transformation Progressing?

Claudio Fabian Guevara

Claudio Fabian Guevara

As he nears his sixth month in office, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known as AMLO) travels around the nation holding public events to report on his social policies and asking citizens for help in removing the vices of the old regime from the State.

 

AMLO exhibits a unique leadership in this enormous country, which he knows from end to end, and where he managed to organise a great national coalition around himself. He is one of the few presidents with the ability to speak and reply for hours, without assistants or teleprompters, on countless aspects of the country’s public life. He is the author of 17 books, has a political career of over three decades and is an unparalleled personality in Mexico today.

 

After running for the presidency three times and finally defeating the electoral fraud apparatus of the PRI – PAN, Andrés Manuel (as he is affectionately called by those who have followed him for years) proposes to achieve the fourth historical transformation of Mexico, an ambitious goal that has led to him being labelled “arrogant” and “messianic”.

 

In order to defeat a hostile media that is a strong supporter of the traditional corrupt elites who had been in power for decades before finally being defeated in the Presidential elections held last year, one of the first steps taken by AMLO was to organise long morning press conferences, where he is accompanied by specialists, secretaries and ministers who report on the what has been happening in each area of governance. Thus, he achieved a direct line of communication, without intermediaries, with millions of people.

 

This strategy was deepened with his tours around the country, and organising face-to-face mass meetings with citizens. In these public interactions, the Mexican president speaks colloquially and intimately, accompanied by members of his cabinet, about how the transformation process is progressing. He provides figures and data on the social welfare programs launched. He justifies how these expenses are financed with the money previously used for corruption. And he preaches moral principles with historical themes as a backdrop to these policies. He also tells anecdotes of the waste and greed of the previous regime.

 

These mass meetings are turning out to be a huge success, with people participating in them in very large numbers. The local municipal and state authorities also participate in these meetings, in which the programmes and works undertaken by the federal government and funds allocated for them are announced. The whistles and shouts of the people, especially when they see an official with an unsavoury reputation in the President’s entourage, add a condiment of colour and spontaneity to the meeting. The political ironies and puns of the main speaker complete the show.

 

Andrés Manuel’s public meetings are, like his morning press conference and many other elements of his government, a communication policy of great originality. What is AMLO’s central message in this campaign? What is he saying to the people during the first six months of his government?

 

Here is a summary of the main points he conveys in his public pronouncements:

 

1) The first priority is to pacify the country: Mexico’s statistics of violence, especially after the launch of Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs, show that the country is suffering from a real internal war. AMLO proposes to stop it along three axes: i) Giving attention to young people by providing them scholarships, full employment and opportunities to study, in order to move them away from the mafia. ii) The legalisation of drugs to weaken the power of criminal cartels, as well as the decriminalisation of drug users. iii) Greater availability of personnel for internal security. To this end, the constitution has been modified to allow the creation of the National Guard, by which the Army and Navy participate in internal security operations. This gesture earned him harsh criticism from the Zapatistas, who accuse AMLO of having deployed more troops than any previous government.

 

2) Austerity, by example: The PRI presidential staff had thousands of staff employed for its security. AMLO has transferred them to internal security and now they take care of the people. Cuts have been made in the salaries of the public employees getting very high salaries, and the lowest salaries have been raised. A law has been passed capping the highest salaries. No one can earn more than the president, whose salary is a modest 108,000 pesos a month, equivalent to about 5600 dollars. The million-dollar pensions for former presidents have been eliminated. The former President Peña Nieto’s expensive presidential plane in California was put up for sale. “Let’s see if Trump will cheer him up,” AMLO ironically says, “because even Trump doesn’t have a plane like that.” As a part of his policy of austerity, the president now travels with his entourage by land, sometimes in four-hour trips, because he deactivated the air fleet which was grossly misused by the ruling elite: “They went by helicopter to play golf.”

 

3) Fighting corruption and promoting social programs, hand in hand: The Mexican president claims to have severed corruption “from the head”. As part of the fight against corruption, the government claims that huachicoleo (organised theft of gasoline from the state oil company Pemex) has been reduced by 95%. The savings generated by eliminating corrupt practices and cutting down wasteful government expenditure are being used to finance social welfare programs. The government has launched a mix of scholarship programs for students and pensions for the elderly, the disabled, some of universal scope and others sectoral. These funds have also been used to finance programs such as interest-free loans for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs and merchants.

 

According to the Welfare Census, the benefits reach 24 million people. The government’s strategy is to make them available to the people without intermediaries, or by directly depositing the money in people’s accounts. The problem: only around 40% of Mexicans have bank accounts.

 

4) Moralising public life with traditional values: There is a strong component of traditional values and principles in the messages of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. They are open and broadly inclusive messages, most of them about traditional values, which would suggest an attempt to balance a wide range of currents of opinion. There is an insistent moral message against the greed that underpinned the open pillage of the nation’s public coffers and wealth: “Those sick of corruption must be cured. To defeat corruption, it must be stigmatised. Before it was a merit, an act of audacity, a prototype. . . . Now we have to change that.”

 

He has also made many bold and innovative pronouncements, such launching a debate for the legalisation of drugs, and has also explicitly rejected agro-toxins and transgenics.

 

On June 1, 2019, AMLO will complete six months in office. In his public agenda there is much more: the Mayan Train megaproject, reversing of the energy and education reforms sanctioned by the previous government, a proposal to combat illegal immigration through development plans and economic integration with the neighbouring nations. He also has to wage a political battle against the old elites displaced from power who promote a battery of criticisms and negative propaganda through their control of the media. The Zapatistas also oppose him—they have fiercely opposed his Mayan Train project and consider his policies to be a revamped and deceitful version of the neoliberal development model that was implemented by the previous governments.

 

On the other hand, the Mexican President has also generated considerable hope among the citizenry. He also the support of a formidable number of intellectuals and first-rate political cadres, apart from the apparatus of his Morena party (a heterogeneous grouping of his own party leaders and recycled leaders of the former governing party)..

 

AMLO travels around Mexico pushing an elephant. It is a peaceful, gradual, and law-abiding process that seeks to pacify a country ravaged by mafia pacts and internecine wars, modernise an inefficient and corrupt state, and maintain peace with its arrogant northern neighbour. Will he succeed?

 

Note by Editors: On May 20, 2019, AMLO announced that his government is going to end the tax breaks of billions of dollars given to the large corporations by his predecessor, saying that it was equivalent to theft by gangsters.

 

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