The Atlantic Calls AMLO ‘The Autocrat Next Door’

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo:


In a lengthy and scathing article written by in-house columnist David Frum, the conservative U.S. political magazine The Atlantic on Tuesday, Feb. 21, warned that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is out to destroy the last traces of democracy in the country.

“Liberal democracy in Mexico is under assault. Worse, the attacker is the country’s own president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador,” the article said.

Noting that U.S. President Joe Biden, in his 2023 State of the Union address, insisted that “in the past two years, democracies have become stronger, not weaker,” and that autocracies are becoming a thing of the past, author Frum said that “those words fall short of the truth in at least one place.”

“And unfortunately,” he added, “that place is right next door: Mexico.

Calling AMLO “Mexico’s erratic and authoritarian president,” Frum went onto say that  “López Obrador is scheming to end the country’s quarter-century commitment to multiparty liberal democracy.”

“He is subverting the institutions that have upheld Mexico’s democratic achievement — above all, the country’s admired and independent election system. On López Obrador’s present trajectory, the Mexican federal elections scheduled for the summer of 2024 may be less than free and far from fair,” the article said.

Frum pointed out that “Mexico is already bloodied by disorder and violence,” with a record 30,000 homicides a year, about triple the murder rate in the United States, with more than double the Mexican population.

“Of those homicides, only about 2 percent are effectively prosecuted, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution,” he said, while in the United States, roughly half of all murder cases are solved.

“Americans talk a lot about ‘the border,’ as if to wall themselves off from events on the other side. But Mexico and the United States are joined by geography and demography. People, products and capital flow back and forth on a huge scale, in ways both legal and clandestine,” he said,

“Mexico exports car and machine parts at prices that keep North American manufacturing competitive. It also sends over people who build American homes, grow American food and drive American trucks. America, in turn, exports farm products, finished goods, technology and entertainment.”

But Frum noted that the two countries also share their drug and violence problems.

“Drugs flow north because Americans buy them” he said.

“Guns flow south because Americans sell them.”

In The Atlantic article, which the magazine denominated as its must-read article of the day, Frum said that should López Obrador succeed in manipulating the next elections in his leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party’s favor, which seems likely given his unflinching efforts to eliminate the country’s most important electoral body, the National Electoral Institute (INE), “he will do more damage to the legitimacy of the Mexican government and open even more space for criminal cartels to assert their power.”

“We are already getting glimpses of what such a future might look like,” Frum wrote.

“Days before President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Mexico City for a trilateral summit with López Obrador in early January, cartel criminals assaulted the Culiacán airport, one of the 10 largest in Mexico. They opened fire on military and civilian planes, some still in the air. Bullets pierced a civilian plane, wounding a passenger. The criminals also attacked targets in the city of Culiacán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa.”

Frum acknowledged that the criminals ultimately failed, but he said, “the point is that they dared to try.”

“If the Mexican state decays further, the criminals will dare more,” he added.

Frum warned that, just like Biden, former U.S. President Donald Trump took “a highly transactional approach to Mexico” in exchange for support in curbing illegal immigration, “looking the other way as López Obrador dismantled Mexican democratic institutions.”

But Frum said that the Biden administration has asked more of López Obrador than Trump did, irritating the Mexican president.

“Mostly, though, Biden has followed Trump’s line on Mexico. Perhaps the Biden administration has concluded that trying to uphold Mexican democracy and liberalism will be a waste of time, given how bleak the outlook is for both,” he wrote.

“The roots of the trouble can be traced back many years. But the warning alarm is sounding on Biden’s watch.”

Frum likewise noted that while López Obrador likes to portray himself as a left-wing liberal, his main project is “to exploit grievances and discontents to consolidate personal power.”

And if AMLO achieves that goal, Frum said, “all North Americans should fear that the ultimate winner in Mexico will be autocracy — or even worse, chaos.”

Frum said that after decades of courting power, López Obrador finally won the 2018 presidential election “less by his personal appeal than by a broader crisis of the (Mexican) political system,” made evident by the blatant abuses and scandals of his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto.

“In July 2018, López Obrador won the most emphatic political victory in Mexico’s modern democratic history. He received 53 percent of the vote for president, 30 points more than the nearest runner-up. He also led his party to a two-thirds majority in the Chamber of Deputies, plus a working majority in the Mexican Senate and a majority of the state legislatures,” Frum said.

But despite his much-delayed political victory, Frum said that López Obrador has shown “scant regard for institutional checks and balances,” dismantling independent institutions and ignoring constitutional precedents.

AMLO’s hatred of the INE, rooted in the fact that it certified López Obrador’s defeat in the 2006 presidential election of 2006, will perhaps be the coup de grâce in his quest to destroy democracy in Mexico, Frum said.

AMLO’s unrelenting commitment to dismantle the INE is evidence of his desire to do away with Mexican democracy, Frum said.

And while López Obrador is unlikely to try to impose his re-election, Frum pointed out that he has appointed his favorite yes-person, Mexico City Governor Claudia Sheinbaum, to be his proxy successor in the hopes of continuing his legacy of authoritarian power.

Still, Frum said that Sheinbaum has lost her appeal with many Mexican voters.

“López Obrador probably has the clout to impose his preferred choice on his party. But imposing that choice on the country is a greater challenge. The INE is an obstacle standing in the president’s way,” he wrote.

But Frum said that the most ominous tool of power that López Obrador is developing is a politicized military.

“Over the past three decades, the United States has worked closely with Mexico to professionalize the Mexican military,” he said.

“That progress has reversed under López Obrador. He has moved dozens of previously civilian functions into military control, creating new opportunities for astute generals and admirals to build personal wealth.”

Frum went on to say that “potentially most significant, López Obrador has shifted control of Mexico’s customs collection from civilian agencies to the military,” justifying that move as an anti-corruption measure.

López Obrador’s endless concessions to the military have allowed him to build a power base of  officers who owe their illicit wealth to him, and over whom he holds knowledge of damaging secrets,” Frum wrote.

“Yet even as López Obrador consolidates power in the presidency, that presidency presides over less and less of Mexico. The Washington Post reported in 2020 that an internal Mexican government document warned that the country’s criminal syndicates muster ‘a level of organization, firepower and territorial control comparable to what armed political groups have had in other places.'”

Frum noted that “where the insurgents prevail, they can contest — and defeat — the institutions of lawful government.”

Calling López Obrador’s so-called Fourth Transformation little more than “oversold hype,” Frum said that AMLO “has brought surprisingly little change to Mexican society,” and yet his gullible followers have remained devoted to his rock-star-like persona, despite his many economic failures and unsuccessful megaprojects like the unused and inaccessible Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA), the no-go Tren Maya tourist train and the still inoperative Dos Bocas oil refinery.

“In the coming months, Mexican democracy will face severe tests,” Frum concluded.

“If Mexico can overcome them, a world of progress beckons. If not, the country risks sliding into authoritarianism at the center surrounded by anarchy in the hinterlands.”

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