Approximately three months remain before Mexicans go to the polls to elect a new president, and we are getting the impression that pundits and regular Josés alike are starting to get used to the idea that Andrés Manuel López Obrador might actually be elected this time. We ourselves are laboring to come to grips with this potential outcome, in a process not unlike the seven stages of grief, although we’re still mostly stuck at stage four, depression. We’re still struggling to accept that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, and now on top of that the prospect of our own populist nationalist zealot taking over…maybe this helps explain why mezcal sales are skyrocketing.
López Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, has run for president twice before. The first time, in 2006, it appeared that he may have won but the official electoral apparatus granted the election to Felipe Calderón of the right-wing PAN, prompting months of protest by AMLO and his supporters. The second time, in 2012, AMLO came in second to Enrique Peña Nieto of the centrist PRI by a margin sufficient to take the wind out of any significant protest activities. Currently, AMLO leads polls by margins of about 8 – 12 percentage points, much like in 2006, but the sense around town is that this time he is unlikely to squander his lead in the final stretch. The question, rather, is how far the currently governing PRI will be willing to go to alter the voting results to impose their candidate – or any other – in the days following the election. The task looks daunting at the moment, as PRI candidate José Antonio Meade is currently running third in most polls. The PRI in the past has shown no inclination to shy away from doing whatever is necessary to fudge election outcomes, but even the PRI may prefer to let López Obrador take his turn this time rather than plunge the country into political chaos.
Here is why we are desperately unhappy with this whole situation: As we have commented before, in our estimation AMLO is a leftist but not a progressive. This leaves us with the worst of both worlds: a guy who pines away for the 1970s model of state-run industry staffed by bloated official unions, but who hems and haws on human rights. He’s a febrile nationalist who seeks to rule by decree while rewarding blind fealty and punishing any dissent. Sound familiar? It hasn’t gone so well for our northern neighbors so far. AMLO’s pining away for the Soviet era has no business anywhere near the presidency, but it turns out that the PRI kleptocracy has spent the past five years rewriting the record books on corruption, which they had originally written themselves during their past governments. The wholesale theft of the nation’s resources and utter indifference to the collapse of rule of law under the current government is astonishing in terms of both the volume of stealing and the absolute impunity with which it has been carried out. The upcoming election should have been a slam dunk for the PRI if they had only made a half-hearted effort to hide their corruption, or even feigned indignance over documented abuses by their own, but they haven’t even bothered to do that. How not to excuse the Mexican electorate for throwing these bums out?
The worst part about the prospect of enduring López Obrador’s Soviet bloc vision for the future are his threats to roll back major initiatives of the current administration that we favor, including the new airport and the 2014 energy reform. A major new airport for Mexico City has been under construction since 2015 to replace the existing, woefully overburdened airport, and local media report that as of March 2018, contracts representing approximately 74% of the total cost of construction have already been awarded. AMLO proposes canceling the project and adding a couple new runways at a nearby military base to ease congestion. The mind boggles.
Canceling the energy reform is a far more complex proposition, given that the new rules range across many areas of energy from oil and gas drilling to fuel storage and distribution to electricity generation and transmission to renewables and much more. Surely the principal bee in AMLO’s bonnet is that the reform removed the long-standing state monopoly over the entire energy sector, including leftist sacred cow Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the national oil and gas monopoly. The reform has been gradually removing price controls and introducing participation by the private sector in energy activities since 2015. This unthinkable slap in the face to all that is good and holy to Mexican leftists surely will not go unpunished under a López Obrador administration. By the time he unpacks in the National Palace in December, though, the breadth of implementation of the reforms will make them extremely costly and disruptive to undo.
We know that three months of campaigning remain before the vote and anything can happen between now and then. Also *cough* a lot of things can happen between the vote and the announcement of the winner. But we remember that in 2006 it seemed inconceivable that Andrés Manuel López Obrador would become president of Mexico, and now it doesn’t. And worst of all, if it turns out that one of the other two top candidates somehow becomes the next president, we’re going to get six more years of what we have now – to quote García Márquez’s nameless Colonel in El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba: mierda.