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What an López Obrador Win Means for Mexico: An Interview With Carlos Bravo Regidor

“He doesn’t come from outside the system. He’s part of the system.”

By Karla Ortiz

On June 4, journalist and political analyst Carlos Bravo Regidor gave a lecture here in San Miguel de Allende, sponsored by Democrats Abroad San Miguel, on the meaning of the Mexican elections for local expats.

Hours before that presentation, Bravo, who has a History master degree by the Chicago University gave sat down with Atención to talk about the historical significance of the upcoming Mexican elections, its potential consequences for the future of Guanajuato and the entire republic, what could happen in the near future with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the role of business, and what reactions we can expect from the third debate, which took place last Tuesday, June 12. This is what he told us:

Karla Ortiz: These upcoming elections on July 1 will be important—and different from previous ones—why?

Carlos Bravo Regidor: Firstly, a win by the current frontrunner, Andres Manuel López Obrador of the Morena party (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional), would be a major shift in power in Mexico’s politics—the third in just under 20 years. (The first happened in 2000 when the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) party lost, after 71 years in power, to the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) party. The second happened in 2012 when PAN lost the presidency, giving it back to the PRI.)

Secondly, it looks like López Obrador—popularly referred to as AMLO—will win in July with more than 50 percent of the vote, a feat no democratically elected president in Mexico has ever achieved.

Thirdly, the polls seem to indicate that in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, the Morena Party it is going to win the largest number of political seats in Mexican elections history. (The current record goes to the PRI, which in 2000 had around 215 seats.) In addition, polls are also predicting that the PRI will lose seven of the nine governorships in dispute to Morena. The other two—in the conservative states of Guanajuato and Yucatán—are predicted to go to PAN.

KO: Why to fear an AMLO presidency?

CBR: López Obrador is a highly recognizable figure among Mexicans, and not necessarily for his great achievements but for his two defeats in previous presidential campaigns. In addition, there are certain elements in his personality and in those of his close associates that have frightened people. His opponents have been quick to paint him as Mexico’s version of the late firebrand leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez.

But AMLO learned from his previous defeats, and thanks to a reinvented campaign this time around, he has won over many more voters in this election cycle by portraying himself as a conservative leftist, a more moderate candidate than before. Also, forming a coalition between the Morena Party and the Partido Encuentro Social (PES), a right-wing Christian party, did much to convince some voters that AMLO is not at odds with religion.

There many differences between Chávez and AMLO, says Bravo, as well as between Venezuela and Mexico: Chávez’s political career was forged in the Venezuelan army, and he was involved in failed coups d’état before he became the nation’s president. In addition, Chávez was an ideologue, at the forefront of the revival of socialism in Latin America in the 21st century and leader of the Bolivarian revolution. Thirdly, before he became president, Chávez was not part of the political system.

AMLO is none of these things. He has never been involved with the army. And he is not someone with a highly developed ideology. On the contrary, he is often very ambiguous in his answers to questions. Finally, AMLO has been part of the country’s political system all his life, a member of the PRI for many years, then the PRD. In 2000, he was made head of the government of Mexico City, and he founded his own political party, the Morena Party. He doesn’t come from outside the system. He’s part of the system.

KO: AMLO: Socialist, communist or populist?

CBR: Populism is above all a way of thinking about and doing politics that has the following characteristics: the presence of a strong and charismatic leader; the idea that the political universe is divided into two great blocks—a more or less homogeneous population and a group of corrupt elites; and the notion that the leader proposes himself as the embodiment of the people, who fights or them against corrupt elites. And that last idea is the one that best represents López Obrador.

One of the dangers of populism taken to the extreme is when populist leaders use this idea to attack democratic institutions, which often happens. They turn the press, the judiciary, or the Congress into representatives of a “mafia” of the corrupt elite. Recently, AMLO has shown signs of this behavior, calling the ministers of the Supreme Court “pimps” of the “power mafia” elites in Mexico.

This does not necessarily mean that if he becomes president that he will govern in this way, because he believes that AMLO is not interested in unleashing an economic crisis. He wants a successful government, and, for that, he has to appoint people who generate confidence in the markets to key cabinet positions. He needs such people appointed to the Treasury, to run the economy, to be in charge of the country’s energy infrastructure.

I think Andrés Manuel is going to cause a double disappointment. He is going to disappoint his followers, because he won’t be able to do everything he has promised. But he is also going to disappoint his detractors, because he is not going to be as bad as everyone says he will be.

KO: Business leaders against AMLO what do they fear?

CBR: One of López Obrador’s most clear and well-known conflicts has been with a group of prominent Mexican businessmen, some of the most influential including Germán Larrea, CEO of Grupo México, a parent company that includes Mexico’s largest mining corporation; and Alberto Baillères, owner of Grupo BAL, one of Mexico’s largest parent companies.

These two have been for years the most vocally opposed to AMLO’s candidacy, but there are businessmen of equal importance who are on good terms with the candidate and already are in dialogue with him—billionaire business magnate Carlos Slim, Televisa CEO Emilio Azcárraga Jean, and LALA food conglomerate president Eduardo Tricio Haro.

There are also some Mexican Stock Exchange rating agencies that do not plan to downgrade México if AMLO wins. This means that there is a sector of the business community that does not want him and that is doing everything in its power to prevent him from becoming president, but it seems that this problem is not affecting the electorate preference towards Morena. All that matters to entrepreneurs is that there is a favorable climate for doing business. AMLO has made it very clear that he is not against businesspeople. He is only against corruption and the trafficking of influence.

KO: What is the US’s role in the Mexican elections?

CBR: There is one thing that all the candidates have in common, and that is that none of them have turned Donald Trump into a campaign issue because if one or the other came to power, they are going to do exactly what Peña Nieto has been doing—adopt a wait-and-see policy until Trump decides what to do with the border wall that Mexico doesn’t plan to pay for and with the NAFTA issue. Donald Trump doesn’t see us as a neighbor, as a partner, as a brother. He doesn’t even see us. In one way or another, I think the candidates say very cheap things —‘We’re not going to let him talk bad about Mexico.’ What they don’t say is what that statement is going to translate into.

KO: Guanajuato is a very insecure state. What the next president can do to change that?

CBR: In case López Obrador wins his first year in office will probably feature some small actions that appeal to a populace who elected him on a wave of frustration with perceived special privileges for political and governmental elites. Actions such as lowering the salaries of civil servants and canceling pensions for former presidents are gestures that the people will applaud him for. Such acts will help him to prolong his ‘honeymoon’ period and make people more patient with him. What AMLO’s government needs to succeed is above all will, talent, and time—to begin to fulfill the small proposals he made and then bet on long-term policies such as the distribution of wealth and ending or reducing corruption and violence.

Our state is currently among the most violent states in the country, with violent crime and murder increasing considerably in recent years. Some of the candidates have promised greater security, but if the elections were to be held today, it appears the winner would be López Obrador, who says he plans to attack insecurity with more education. This is one of the great disappointments he could cause as president when people are feeling in crisis and want quick solutions.

Violence and insecurity require time-consuming solutions: training police officers, social reintegration, fixing prisons. Many things are required that cannot be done overnight. AMLO’s first year as president will resemble the last year of Peña Nieto, because he will be a different president but [he will be dealing with] the same country, the same population, the same economy. I don’t think AMLO will make a very important difference for [insecurity] in Guanajuato, or for the rest of the country.

KO: What are the reactions to expect from the third debate?

CBR: Polls show that most of the voters have already made up their minds, with numbers of undecided voters dropping since the second presidential debate. Many predict many voters will see the third debate as irrelevant.

And when the July 1 elections arrive, those left undecided will vote for whoever’s up in the polls, to feel like they voted for a winner. If it were very close, the competition would be different. But [right now] there is no competition for first place, only for second.


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