By RICARDO CASTILLO
Throughout his electoral campaign, Mexico’s now-President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) kept on promising something he calls “the fourth transformation”, as well as the construction of the “Fourth Republic.”
In reality, the concept is not new, since AMLO has been hammering on the “transformation” of Mexico since his first run for president back in 2006, when he lost by a nose to National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderón. AMLO repeated his “fourth republic” concept during the 2012 election, which he lost by a 6 percent point difference to Enrique Peña Nieto.
In 2007, López Obrador created a nongovernmental organization called the Progressive Ample Front and AMLO, and now-Chamber of Deputies President Porfirio Muñoz Ledo began what became a movement with the objective of bringing about a reform of the Mexican Constitution.
As president-elect, AMLO began carrying out daily press conferences to announce his cabinet members and other ideas he has in mind for the next six-year term, including the “fourth transformation” of the United States of Mexico. By early August, he had added the photos of three former presidents, Benito Juárez (1857-1871), Francisco I. Madero (1911-1912) and Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940), hinting at the previous authors of the first three transformations.
But the story of transformations goes further back to the birth of Mexico as an independent nation in 1821, after 11 years of battles against the 300-year Spanish domination and viceroyal governance style.
Immediately after Sept. 27, 1821, when Agustín de Iturbide paraded triumphantly into Mexico City, Iturbide began to govern as emperor and was officially crowned in 1822. His kingdom would only last eight months, as he was deposed and sent into exile. The failed kingdom taught the Mexican people the lesson that the nation needed to become a republic, and by 1824 ,the first president, Guadalupe Victoria, and Congress drafted the first Mexican Constitution, pretty much based on the U.S. Constitution, with the difference that it abolished slavery and divided the powers into three departments which were – and still are – the executive, the legislative and the judicial.
The first Constitution, however, was far from perfect, as it allowed the Catholic Church to keep Catholicism as the only religion, banning all other creeds. This gave the Vatican an upper hand and near control of government as the priesthood was tremendously powerful and created a political rift between liberals and conservatives.
The only thing the liberals and conservatives at that time had agreed on was the ousting of 11-times president Antonio López de Santa Anna, an act which was carried out in 1855. After Santa Anna was sent into exile, the liberals in government under Mexico’s new president, Juan Álvarez, began reforming the 1824 Constitution, and, in 1857, under Interim President Ignacio Comonfort, proclaimed a new constitution, stripping away all the power from the reigning Catholic Church. The reaction of the Catholic Church, with the backing of the nation’s conservatives, was to declare war on the Comonfort administration.
Benito Juárez – then president of the Supreme Court – was named president, replacing Comonfort. Juárez led the war against the Church and the conservatives, defeating their movement in what is known as the Reform Laws War. Juárez stayed on as president, fighting yet another war against the French government, which had imposed Maximilian as emperor of Mexico. Juárez stood behind the 1857 Constitution and stayed on as president until 1872, when he passed away from natural causes. His 15-year tenure is considered by AMLO – and many Mexican historians – as the time of the Second Republic.
Another photo on AMLO’s press conferences room in Mexico City is that of Francisco I. Madero, who was the first president elected by direct vote and promoter of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, which brought to an end the 32-year dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. President Madero did not last long at the National Palace. His electoral victory was not recognized until Nov. 6, 1911, and it was toppled by a military coup d’état on Feb. 19, 2013. Yet in AMLO’s vision, Madero is the father of Mexican democracy. Madero’s rule is considered the second transformation or republic, which ended in 1917 with the drafting of the 1917 Constitution, the magna carta that still rules the nation, notwithstanding that over the last 101 years, it has been amended (patched up, some claim) over 600 times. But it marks the time of the Third Republic.
What is baffling at AMLO’s press conferences room is the photo of President Lázaro Cárdenas who was – like AMLO – a populist and is primarily remembered due to his nationalization of Mexico’s oil resources – then in the hands of U.S. and British companies, which were ousted out of Mexico by force. He founded the government oil company Pemex. Cárdenas’ period is not considered in AMLO’s transformation of the republics, but López Obrador makes a point of spotlighting his favorite president in Mexican history.
How exactly AMLO’s fourth transformation will come about is, for now, anybody’s guess. But for sure the president elect will not mess with any changes to the current Constitution, “at least for the first three years” of his six-year term, due to end in 2024.
What is certain is that a radical change will come about, not just because it was AMLO’s campaign promise, but because that’s what the Mexican people voted for last July 1, when López Obrador won the election with 53 percent of the total vote in what we old hacks who’ve seen it all consider the first truly clean election in the nearly 200 years that Mexico has been a republic.
There may be more alleged republics around Mexican history, but those described here are the three AMLO is considering as meaningful moments of Mexico’s national life. But again, don’t expect any constitutional changes soon, even though Chamber of Deputies President Muñoz Ledo, who fathered the new Mexico City Constitution turning the Federal District into a bona fide state, which went into effect this week, is ready to tackle the nation’s old constitution with a new one.
That would indeed merit the moniker a Fourth Republic.