My friend Carlos Bravo Regidor and I grew frustrated with the international coverage of the upcoming Mexican elections, in which the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador looks like the likely winner. We sought to contextualize his standing in the polls not as some instant reaction to Trump, but in the context of frustrations with the process and results of democratization within Mexico itself. We also sought to recast the coverage, away from an dissection of AMLO’s personality and towards a structural analysis of the situation he might face in office. The result is this essay in Dissent (in print in the Spring 2018 issue). It has been enormously gratifying to see it widely shared and read in the first days it has been up–including in Mexico.
Some say he is a Hugo Chávez-like figure: a demagogue who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela. Others see him as Mexico’s Jeremy Corbyn: a politician of principle with a chance of beating an entrenched establishment. Still others compare him to Lenin because he has created a disciplined party where his leadership is unquestioned. Or he could be Mexico’s Lula—feared by capital when elected in Brazil, but inclined to compromise with it once in office. Many compare him to Donald Trump because of his use of socially divisive rhetoric, while others attribute his success to a reaction against Trump’s racist talk of Mexican criminality. What is certain is that Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often referred to as AMLO) is currently leading the polls for the Mexican presidential election this July.
These diverse and even opposing reactions speak to the anxieties of their authors—as well as to the ambiguities that AMLO himself has cultivated over his many years in politics. Still, these comparisons to foreign leaders are misleading and frequently superficial, focusing excessively on personality while neglecting the political conditions that have both made AMLO a viable candidate and will shape his presidency if he wins. As of late February, AMLO looks like the clear frontrunner, and the likely next president of Mexico. But the coalition he is assembling will probably not constitute a solid majority, and the political situation he is likely to enter into may make the transformative changes that people either expect or fear from him difficult to carry out.