By MARK LORENZANA
Veteran Mexican-American journalist Jorge Ramos, in an article for the now-defunct U.S. political and opinion website Splinter, wrote about the curious Mexican political custom of “el dedazo,” which, when translated roughly, means “to point a finger.”
“As a young man, I was obsessed with the political phenomenon of ‘el dedazo’ in Mexico. It didn’t make sense that in a democracy, a sitting president could point to another politician, making him an automatic candidate to be his successor and essentially handing over his power,” Ramos wrote. “It made less sense that millions of Mexicans accepted, without protest, the fact that this hand-picked successor would certainly win the next presidential election.“
Ramos wrote his article way back in Dec. 5, 2017, eight months before the July 2018 general election that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) won by a landslide, defeating the successor of former President Enrique Peña Nieto (of the centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party. or PRI) that he appointed through — guess what — el dedazo.
“Recently, after a hiatus of almost two decades, President Enrique Peña Nieto decided to resurrect the practice by choosing José Antonio Meade to succeed him,” Ramos wrote. “When it came to selecting Meade, there wasn’t even the false pretense of a democratic process. There were no polls or party conventions. Nothing. Peña Nieto simply pointed his finger and chose.”
Four years into López Obrador’s term, the Mexican president has vowed to do away with el dedazo. Instead, AMLO coined a new political term, “corcholata,” which is a portmanteau of “corcho” (cork) and “lata,” (can), referring to a crown bottle cap. While in el dedazo, a president’s chosen one usually remains “covered” until the last minute, when he or she is appointed (or pointed to) or “uncovered” by their predecessor, López Obrador’s corcholatas will be, at least in theory, chosen by the people — but with AMLO acting as the “bottle opener” himself.
“They are no longer covered. I am the bottle opener, and my favorite bottle cap is going to be the one that the people will choose,” AMLO said in July of last year, referring to his presidential successor in 2024.
So who are these Morena corcholatas?
Mexico City Governor Claudia Sheinbaum, the apparent favorite of López Obrador, has been all over the news lately for being the face of political posturing. On June 16 of this year, Sheinbaum was formally investigated by the National Electoral Institute (INE) for allegedly engaging in early campaigning for the June 7, 2024, Mexican presidential elections.
The INE, through a letter, asked Sheinbaum to explain a statement that she made before the media, on May 22, in a political event in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, that “Mexico is ready for a woman president.”
Sheinbaum was also recently criticized publicly by Kenia López Rabadán, deputy coordinator of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) caucus in the Mexican Senate, who accused the Mexico City governor of neglecting her work in the capital and engaging in early campaigning.
On July 1, Sheinbaum flew to the southeast Mexican state of Tabasco for AMLO’s inauguration of the controversial Dos Bocas refinery — not exactly part of a city governor’s job description. Two days later, Sheinbaum traveled to Querétaro, where she participated in a massive political event organized by Morena.
Sheinbaum is no stranger to self-promotion; in November of last year, she caught flack for allegedly promoting herself through welfare cards that her critics disdainfully called “Claudia’s cards.”
Another main contender for the 2024 Morena presidential candidacy is Foreign Relations (SRE) Secretary Marcelo Ebrard. Recently, supporters of the foreign relations secretary, headed by Senator Malu Micher, called on the Morena party leadership to set rules against early campaigning and alleged use of public resources to fund these campaigns.
Mario Delgado, president of Morena, denied the claims. “If someone has evidence that there is use of public resources, they have to report it to the corresponding authorities, who must then conduct an investigation,” Delgado said.
López Obrador bristled at the suggestion of Ebrard’s supporters that some Morena candidates are receiving preferential treatment over others.
“There are equal chances for all the candidates because we are not pointing at any particular candidate. I do not have a favorite candidate,” AMLO said in one of his daily press conferences. “There are no loaded dice, there are no marked cards. In the case of the presidential candidates, there will be a survey. The people will decide, and I’m going to support whoever wins the poll.”
Ebrard or his supporters might not agree with López Obrador’s statement, but the foreign relations secretary isn’t innocent of the early-campaigning violations that his fellow Morena party mates are allegedly guilty of either: In recent months, Ebrard himself has approached leaders from other Mexican states to cobble together support for his own candidacy.
Senator Ricardo Monreal, though — another Morena presidential candidate — agreed with Ebrard that there should be clear rules for choosing the next Morena standard bearer. In a press conference on Tuesday, July 26, Monreal also reminded his party mates that “no one should be tempted to use public resources from the states, municipalities or the federal government to further their political ambition.”
“I think the president’s message was for Marcelo Ebrard, who complained that there is no level playing field, and Marcelo Ebrard said that for a reason. He is an intelligent man,” Monreal said.
Monreal also said that while he believed López Obrador when the president assured everyone that there are no “loaded dice,” at the same time the senator said that he did not trust some Morena governors, especially the ones from Tabasco, from where López Obrador hails.
“When there are people excluded, there is no level playing field. I believe the president of the republic when he said that he doesn’t get involved,” Monreal said. “I believe him, but I don’t believe some governors. And I think they are breaking their word, because when I go to some states, they have never paid attention to me. But when some of the other Morena members go, they always accompany them.”
Speaking of Morena members from Tabasco, another main contender is former Tabasco Governor and current Interior (Segob) Secretary Adán Augusto López Hernández, a man close to AMLO who was appointed to the post in August of last year.
López Hernández, in a report by Mexican daily newspaper Reforma on Friday, July 29, was allegedly promoted in this year’s annual Tenosique Cheese Festival.
According to the Reforma report, outside a convention center in the town of Tenosique in Tabasco during the visit of interim Governor Carlos Manuel Merino, who replaced López Hernández last August, trucks appeared with photos of the interior secretary and López Obrador with an accompanying campaign slogan that said, “Tenosique goes with Adán.”
A song was also heard at full volume, with the following words: “This 2024, Morena is going to win this election / even if the alliance begins, Adan will be the winner / so you know what is happening, only Adan is the best / and he will continue the government projects of Mr. Obrador.”
In a makeshift checkers set, bottle caps are commonly used as pieces on the board. And with the current infighting right now happening among the Morena corcholatas or bottle caps, it certainly seems as though the leftist political party of AMLO is playing checkers, not chess.
One thing’s obvious, though: Despite his latest rhetoric that he will do away with el dedazo, López Obrador is clearly favoring some — or one — of the corcholatas more than others. He won’t finger a specific candidate, sure, but as early as now AMLO seems to have already picked up his favorite bottle cap from the checkerboard — to the chagrin of the rest of the corcholatas.