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Mexico’s AMLO: Between Tyrannical Theater and Total War

AMLO, entre el teatro y la guerra total. Imagen: Hugo Jehanne via Unsplash

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“President López Obrador is moving towards total war. He overruns the Legislative and attacks the Judiciary. He demonizes the National Electoral Institute and the National Transparency Institute. He deteriorates energy competitiveness. He destroys legal certainty and attacks emblematic companies.”

This is what Gustavo de Hoyos, former president of the Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana, recently tweeted. And he is right.

The uncomfortable and very painful reality is that, as of September 2014, when the pro-worker media ecosystem rode on the disappearance of 43 people in Ayotzinapa to completely dismantle the credibility of the then President, Enrique Peña Nieto, the country began the definitive stage of a slow but steady fall towards tyranny.

In 2015, the pro-worker Morena party entered the Chamber of Deputies and won a handful of municipalities. In 2018, taking advantage of a perfect storm of disenchantment against the “PRIAN”, lousy campaigns of his adversaries and the powerful narrative he built for decades, AMLO took the “full cart”: he won the presidency with the highest percentage of support since 1982 and won comfortable majorities, both in the Congress of the Union and in most local congresses, to reform the Constitution almost without the need to ask for permission.

Since then, Andrés Manuel has set the whole country dancing to the sound of a macabre milonga between tyranny and democracy, interspersing signs of moderation (and even openness to free trade) with autocratic whims worthy of the worst Latin American demagoguery, starting with the infamous cancellation of the airport in Mexico City.

Thus, for more than 2 years he has prepared and tightened the noose of tyranny, while striving to send signals that he is not like the Venezuelan Chavistas or the rest of the South American radicals. Obrador seemed interested in postponing fundamental conflicts and opted to focus on the anecdotal.

Today things have changed. With 70 days to go before the mid-term elections that will renew 15 governorships, the Chamber of Deputies and the majority of city councils and local congresses, Andrés Manuel seems determined, now, to wage total war against companies, opposition parties and anyone who might challenge his dominance.

The most serious thing is that, as things stand, this is a war that he can win and that would subject Mexico to the full domination of a State party. In the best case scenario we would be back to the hated monopoly of the old PRI, in the worst case we could end up in the style of Venezuela.

Two major battlefields

For his all-out war, the President has chosen to focus on two battlefields.

The first is the energy sector. Since the campaign, Andrés Manuel stated that the energy reform was negative, but once in office he toned down his statements and pledged not to reverse it. However, in the last few weeks he launched two initiatives to reform the Electricity and Oil Industry laws, which essentially submit these sectors to the absolute whim of the Federal Government and reinstate the infamous monopolies of Petróleos Mexicanos and the Federal Electricity Commission.

The first of these initiatives has already been published in the Official Journal of the Federation; the second will be analyzed in Congress while the electoral process is underway.

The second battlefield is the electoral process itself. Andrés Manuel and his political allies have launched a direct, systematic and fierce war against the National Electoral Institute and specifically against the board members Lorenzo Córdova and Ciro Murayama, whom they accuse of not being impartial (of course, in the pro-worker dictionary “impartial” means that the will of the President is submitted to the letter of the law).

These attacks range from the denunciations of the President himself in his daily conference to the calls for a trial for treason and arrest or even firing squad that run by the thousands in the social network ecosystems of obradorismo. What for? In addition to the evident intimidation effect on federal and local electoral authorities, the strategy seems to feed an atmosphere of distrust, with the objective that the ruling party’s supporters have the pretext that allows them to reject the legitimacy of the results that do not favor them.

Total war or round of shadows?

And yet, another possibility remains: that, instead of an all-out war, we are facing the imposture of an expert playwright, casting the shadow of tyranny to subdue through negotiation. Why?

López Obrador, between tyrannical theater and total war for the control of Mexico. (Image: EFE/ Mario Guzmán)
López Obrador, between tyrannical theater and total war for the control of Mexico. (Image: EFE/ Mario Guzmán)

If we are facing an all-out war, it means that President López Obrador is willing not only to break his tacit non-aggression agreements with the Mexican private sector, but to directly confront America and the world, since both the free trade agreement with the United States and Canada, as well as other trade agreements that Mexico has signed and which are mandatory, prohibit the Government from implementing the reforms that Obrador is proposing in the energy field.

For the time being, his attempt to take over the wholesale electricity market has already met with almost 100 injunction petitions from companies and environmental organizations, and something similar will happen if AMLO succeeds in getting Congress to approve his reform to the Hydrocarbons Law. Even if the government succeeds in withdrawing these amparos, companies in both sectors would immediately resort to international tribunals that Andrés Manuel can neither order nor intimidate.

So, in a total war scenario, he is left with two options: to break away from the international commercial structure and turn Mexico into a pariah country (similar to Iran or Venezuela), or to negotiate with the foreign companies by paying them large indemnities in exchange for being able to freely tyrannize Mexican companies. The problem? Mexico doesn’t have enough money to buy the silence of the big corporations.

Likewise, if it is an all-out war, Andres Manuel and his allies will resort even to political violence in order to cancel or at least completely delegitimize the electoral process, at the cost of destroying any remnants of their own political legitimacy, once again becoming a pariah state within the international community.

If war is avoided?

In this scenario, it would simply be an intensified version of the shadow dance that Andrés Manuel has been carrying out since 2018: he would use the counter-reform initiatives in the energy sector and the attacks on INE as a mechanism to demonstrate power and negotiate politically.

And he would precisely negotiate that the big companies owe him directly, “the favor” of continuing to operate in Mexico, and as a token of gratitude they would support his movement economically or politically, or at least that they would not give their full backing to the opponents.

More dangerous when wounded

As we can see, rather than facing an all-out war, we are facing a rogue who seeks to take advantage. That is the good news, the bad news is that just before he falls he will become very dangerous. Why?

Obrador will not break his ties with democracy and the international trading system outright, not yet. He will do so when he is desperate and believes that radicalization is his only way to remain in power, for he would rather be a pariah in the Palace than a democrat in La Chingada (his ranch in the state of Chiapas).

If the opposition manages to stop him, the point will come when Andres Manuel will become desperate. When Obrador knows the true terror of losing political control of the country, Mexico will be in its most dangerous moment of the last century, but it is a risk we will have to face because before AMLO there are only two options: either Mexico will cede its institutions and its future to him in exchange for mercy, or he will fight for them at the risk of losing to tyranny.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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