By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
In less than two weeks now, Mexico’s very own Man Who Would Be King (oops, I meant to say president), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), will take office, and for the next six years, the Land of Mañana (Tomorrowland, in a truly Disney sense of the word) will no doubt move forward into an Arcadia of Never Never Land of economic bliss and universal justice for all, or backward into total financial and political chaos akin to the period that followed the end of the six-year tenure of the country’s last reigning economic nationalist, José López Portillo (who came to office as the 51st president in an unopposed election in 1976 and ended his tenure with Mexico in a state of total fiscal and monetary crisis caused by an over-bloated national oil sector, world-class, government-condoned corruption and nepotism, a “nationalized” banking system and a mega-devalued peso – all spurred on by an unprecedented massive capital flight and public disillusionment – that would eventually lead to Mexico declaring sovereign default in 1982 as good old JLP left office and the country).
But enough about López Portillo.
What Mexicans have now on their doorsteps is the birth of a brand new era of a one-party system, not unlike that which existed under the now-effectively defunct Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), that ran the country singlehandedly and uninterruptedly for 71 years from 1929 to 2000.
How AMLO and his faithful (and often blindly so) herd of proselytes came to power in a landslide July 1 election is a long and complex story, and one that has been extensively explained by my esteemed colleague and fellow Pulse News Mexico columnist Ricardo Castillo (see “The Rise and Fall of the Mexican Partycracy Political System,” which ran in this online newspaper on Nov. 16), but essentially, AMLO and his newly formed National Regeneration Movement (Morena) triumphed over the PRI and its buddy-buddy myrmidon parties after Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, outdid all of his political predecessors (including López Portillo) in looting the national coffers and raping the country through blatant and unscrupulous acts of jobbery and payola.
In other words, the Mexican people were so disgusted with Peña Nieto and the equally corrupt and malfeasanced other “official” parties (most of which had already had a chance to try their hand at governance, only to succeed in padding their personal bank accounts and further promoting the nation’s classic you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours profiteering cycle), that they were ready and eager to vote in anyone and any party that was not part and parcel of the country’s renownedly nefarious political corruption system.
This is not to say that AMLO was not or is not a savvy and seasoned politician, having bravely taken on the mayorship of one of the world’s largest and most chaotic cities in 2000 and stubbornly accepting defeat in two previous bids for the Mexican presidency with a stiff upper lip and an unflinching determination to carry on his fight for social and political revolution despite having been rejected by his own party.
But as a two-time loser and a staunch defender of the county’s social and economic underdogs – and believe me, there is no shortage of the financially underprivileged in Mexico, where 43 percent of the country’s wealth is in the hands of 10 percent of the population, and 42 percent of the population still lives below the national poverty line – AMLO and his promise to reform practically every element of Mexican political life was the social equivalent of a knight in shining armor for a desperate and disillusioned people.
Although López Obrador is not officially due to take office until Dec. 1, for all intents and purposes, he is already running the country, partly because his posse of fellow Morena-ists has heretofore taken over the majority of both houses of Congress (with whopping majorities) and partly because Peña Nieto and his gang of cohorts (with recently issued lifetime get-out-of-jail-free cards in hand, bestowed on them by an equally venal Supreme Court justice) are too busy cramming as many greenbacks as they can fit into their Louis Vuitton suitcases and getting ready to head out of the country as soon as midnight strikes on the eve of Nov. 30 to bother with (or even care about) governing Mexico.
And so, AMLO and friends have wasted no time setting about the business of revamping Mexico in a head-to-toe political overhaul that would make Jackie Kennedy’s 1960s extreme makeover of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue look like a minor change in floral arrangements.
From the abrupt scrapping of the construction of a massive $13 billion airport project (already well underway and somewhere between 20 and 35 percent completed, depending on who you ask) to the outright elimination of Mexico’s highly venerated Estado Mayor presidential body guard system (not only for himself, but for his now-wanted-dead-or-alive predecessors – and, just for record, one has to wonder who is going to be responsible now for the safety and protection of visiting heads of state?), AMLO is moving full speed ahead with his Mexico 2.0 do-over.
To justify (or perhaps rationalize) his damn-the-torpedoes, come-hell-or-high-water Mexico overhaul, AMLO has developed a unique, new, see-the-people-are-all-behind-me method of consultation, through which a small portion of the population (mostly Morenaphiles) are asked to provide their input in a “nonbinding” plebiscite as to how they feel about a particular issue.
His pilot “public” referendum (in which an alleged total of 1.07 million Mexicans, out of a national voter registry of nearly 90 million, participated, and amid numerous allegations of multiple voting incidences and other accusations of fraud) was held in late October on the question of whether to halt the aforementioned airport project.
A 70 percent “do-it” mandate from the consultation led to his “decision” to proceed with the cancelation of the airport project (followed by the peso-dollar exchange tumbling to above the psychologically critical 20 to 1 rate, a steep drop in the Mexican Bolsa de Valores stock exchange and, oh, yeah, a downgrade of the country’s predicted growth rate by JPMorgan Chase for 2019 from 2.4 percent to 1.9 percent).
But, hey, AMLO was just doing the Mexican people’s will.
And since his first “public consultation” was such a roaring success, Mexico’s new president-elect (remember, theoretically, he still hasn’t taken office) is at it again, this time with a multifaceted referendum where he is asking such profoundly controversially questions as to whether it would be a good idea to plant a million or so new trees to help the environment, or offer young, unemployed youth job training to help them have a more promising future, or whether there should be universal health care (which, by the way, was already established nationwide as “Seguro Popular” in 2003 under the now-moribund, conservative National Action Party’s Vicente Fox administration).
Meanwhile, AMLO has made a bedlamite’s array of self-determined declarations and promises that run the gamut from cutting the current 16 percent value added tax in half to doubling the minimum wage to providing a guaranteed income for all unemployed youth who choose not to seek an education, all the while, while decriminalizing the use and production of illicit drugs (including opiates), offering amnesty to hardcore criminals and watching foreign investors and transnational corporations flee the country in droves.
No doubt AMLO and the Morenalites will continue to carry out their Georges Fontenis-istic path to platformism, validated and legitimized by what promises to be an endless parade of ersatz public consultations.
But there is still one question that remains to be answered: How the hell does AMLO expect to be able to pay for all this?
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at email@example.com.