This past Monday Mexico played Brazil in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. Mexico has never gotten past this stage in the mundial, as it is known in Spanish. Hopes were high, and you could have driven through the entire city encountering no traffic. Everyone was watching the game. But it was not to be…Brazil, led by Neymar Jr., was just too good, and won a convincing 2-0 victory.
But soccer, indeed, is a distraction from what was really important, and that happened the day before, on Sunday, June 1. Mexico elected Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO* for short.
Obrador was narrowly defeated 12 years ago, and was so convinced he had won (and indeed, he might have!) that he declared himself the legitimate president-elect, and created a chaos in Mexico City for several weeks. He also narrowly lost 6 years ago. But as they say, the third time is a charm, and it certainly was for AMLO.
He won big, with 53% of the popular vote, an extremely rare occurrence in Mexico’s three-party system. He not only won the presidency, but his party (technically only formally established three years ago) won the majority in both houses of Congress. It wasn’t an electoral wave, it was a tsunami of historic proportions. The PRI, the traditional party that has ruled Mexico most in the past 100 years, was decimated, reduced to a minuscule fraction of its former self.
Obrador won because the nation wanted change. Obrador has a reputation of leaning left, and was supported by the PT party, which leans even farther left. His opponents would point to an authoritarian streak, and a tendency to be shrill and uncompromising. Nevertheless, his personal convictions regarding the importance of a simple life that rejects the trappings of power, and his work ethic that created daily 6 a.m. press conferences when he was mayor of Mexico City make him seem down-to-earth. Mexican politics has become extremely elitist in recent decades. People wanted a change.
After the official rapid count of votes declared him the winner of Mexico’s intense presidential election on Sunday evening, AMLO appeared quite moderate, appealing for national unity and vowing to continue to support the business community in Mexico. Even his comments regarding his relationship to his neighbor to the north were diplomatic and measured. Those who compare AMLO to Chavez or Maduro are mistaken. AMLO is much to smart for that.
Nevertheless, he did repeat a common theme throughout his campaign…primero los pobres. The poor come first. In his speech before a packed zócalo, Mexico’s historic center square, he repeated his pledge to help the elderly, the unemployed, the marginalized and the indigenous population. Those who analyze “expectation management” say he may be saying too much too soon, creating expectations that could be nearly impossible to fulfill.
But for now, for many in Mexico, they are hopeful. Hopeful for change. In four years, perhaps, Mexico may win that crucial game 4 of the World Cup. Maybe. But it is much more certain that they will have a different country in four years under AMLO and his MORENA party. For better or for worse. The optimists among us want to give him a fair shot at it. He certainly has labored a long time to win Mexico’s top electoral prize. He will formally take power December 1.
Is AMLO a Catholic or a Christian? Well, that’s a very good question! In the election of 2006, he declared himself to be a Catholic. He apparently, however, grew up as an Adventist, and defines himself as a “Christian” in the vaguest of ways, stating: “Soy un seguidor de la vida y de la obra de Jesucristo. Porque Jesucristo luchó en su tiempo por los pobres, por los humildes. Por eso lo persiguieron los poderosos de su época. Entonces soy en ese sentido un creyente. Tengo mucho amor, lo digo de manera sincera, por el pueblo“. In English, that is: I am a follower of the life and work of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus fought in his time for the poor and the humble. Because of this, in his time, the powerful persecuted him. So I am, in that sense, a believer. I have much love, and I sincerely say this…for the people. You may want to check out these sites (in Spanish). 1. La Jornada, 2. El Financiero, 3. SinEmbargo
For articles in English, well, there are many, and some that dwell on the extreme edges of either Mexico’s alleged in-governability, or Trump-bashing. But a few articles avoid those extremes and provide a very good perspective of AMLO and current Mexican politics.
1. President of Paradox for Mexico, NYT 2. Lopez Obrador and the Future of Mexican Democracy, Foreign Affairs 3. Mexico’s Victor Pledges to “Reach Understanding” with Trump, AP 4. All You Need to Know About Mexico’s New President, Texas Monthly
*Rumor has it that his actually name is Manuel Andres, but that would have spelled MALO, hardly a convincing acronym when running for public office!