La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Choice bits on the AMLO & the presidential election

Overall, today's NYT Magazine story about the Lopez Obrador and the upcoming presidential election in Mexico is pretty good. I'm not sure that I entirely agree with the conclusion:

As the presidential campaign enters its final and critical phase, there is no longer any question of where this campaign is being fought: on the terrain of populism. The fact that Calderón has chosen to challenge López Obrador there, on what had always been AMLO's home ground, is a testament to how much López Obrador's campaign has changed Mexican politics. Of course, if López Obrador goes on to lose an election that, three months ago, most Mexicans thought he would win, that fact is not likely to be much of a consolation to him.

I say that I don't entirely agree only because I'm uncomfortable with the emphasis on populism, especially given its recent association in the press with several South American leaders. Rather than try to categorize candidates or races, why not provide a better explanation of their positions? But, I guess it wouldn't be as catchy without a way to group a whole range of candidates and positions together.

Luckily, in the rest of the article, the author tries to provide a more nuanced portrait of Lopez Obrador and his positions:

López Obrador himself scoffs at these fears. "Change is possible," he told me when we spoke in April on the patio of his home in the gated community of Galaxia in Villahermosa, the capital of his native state of Tabasco. "Of course I understand that globalization is a fact and that one has to act within its parameters. But this does not mean that we here in Mexico have to continue as we have been doing. This country is immensely rich. Its problems are problems of maladministration — above all, of corruption." And he added, "The point is that the Washington consensus" — as the neoliberal model of development is known — "was applied more rigidly here, by successive Mexican governments, than it ever was in the U.S. and Europe, where there are many protected sectors, above all agriculture."

The passage above suggests that Lopez Obrador is critical of neoliberalism but also understands that a return to the economic policies of the 1970s (i.e., populist spending) would be unwise. Which is why it is surprising that the author would then go on to write this statement about AMLO:
In fact, he insists, the model has not worked, and he vows that if he is elected, he will pursue a very different set of policies, ones that serve the poor rather than the rich.

What I've read doesn't suggest that AMLO will pursue a "very different set of policies." Instead, it seems that he will keep many of the neoliberal reforms in place (i.e., keep free trade provisions, will not nationalize industries that were recently privatized, respect central bank policy, etc.), but what he has promised to change is spending on the poor. Granted, how he'll pay for all that is a difficult, and unanswered, question.

This passage about migration also reflects a more subtle picture of AMLO, the candidate:
"If I am elected," he told me, "I will propose a conference on migration with the United States. Building a wall is not a viable solution. The only thing that will work is creating jobs in Mexico. Fox was not able to maintain good relations with Washington. But I can't see any reason why I can't succeed in doing so."

This accomodationist language toward the United States might seem surprising coming from the politician the Calderón campaign has tried to associate with Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro's greatest ally and the Latin American politician Washington fears most these days. But, in fact, it is consistent with the position López Obrador has taken throughout the campaign. His aides often point out that he has no quarrel with the United States, and in his campaign he reserves his scorn for the political and business establishment of Mexico. Although some American observers remain fearful of his leftist tendencies — The Wall Street Journal ran a column in March worrying that AMLO might be "laying the groundwork for an assault on the private sector" — none of the Americans I spoke to in Mexico seemed to believe that López Obrador will nationalize oil and gas resources, as Evo Morales has done and Hugo Chávez has threatened to do.

Update: After poking around the blogosphere some more, I find that Greg had a similar reaction to the article. The article is inconsistent--perhaps the effects of an editor trying to spice it up?

posted by Michelle @ 10:30 AM,


At 6/04/2006 11:46 AM, Blogger Greg Weeks said...

Maybe you're right--the poorly made argument overshadowed the rest of it for me, but there is in fact a solid description of him if you can ignore the whole "he's a crazy populist" thing.


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