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Left, right, left, right

15 December 2017


It’s probably dangerous to slap labels… especially those labels coming from European and other global northerners… on the political movements here. Still, for simplicity (and for foreign media consumption), the formula has been PRD = “leftist”; PRI = “centerist”; and PAN = “conservative”. The other seven national parties are usually forgotten, or mentioned only as an afterthought, but this year, with one of the “others” possibly crushing the big three, and ideologically incongruent coalitions between parties in the race for the Presidency, the simplistic formulas beloved by the media are going by the wayside.

PRD claims to be a Democratic Socialist party, so calling it a “leftist” party makes sense. Until one realizes that PRI… which follows a neo-liberal economic policy, as well as the PRD, are both member parties of Socialist International.

But, I suppose a lot of “Socialist” parties have more or less acquiesced to neo-liberalism and the “Washington consensus” over the last 25 years or so. And, Mexico having always been seen as further “left” than the United States, I suppose a party Socialist in theory, but not much in practice, is “centerist”.

And PAN? Although its roots were in both Fascism and in conservative Catholic movements, the Partido Acción Nacional” considers itself neutral on economic policies. In reality, it is a neo-liberal party, a bit further to the right (especially in cultural and social policy) than PRI. So, I suppose it is the right party to call the “right”.

Right?

Several new parties, with different ideological positions have sprung up in the last three years, complicating the neat divisions between the parties, and no doubt ruining the simplified political shorthand of “left, center, right”.

Morena (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional), led by With Andres Manuel López Obrador –“AMLO”, the PRD’s presidential candidate in 2006 and 2012 — knocked his old political home from its position as the third largest party. Unable to hold its own against the two larger parties (between them, PRI and PAN can count on about 60 to 65% of all voters in any election) and having driven López Obrador out of the party (and, consequently, a good portion of PRD voters defecting to Morena), it has been desperately trying to maintain its relevance by providing an alternative to PRI.

However, an alternative has always existed (or at least a viable one since the 1990s) in PAN. So… the socialist PRD started running in coalition with the neo-liberal PAN for state offices a few years back… and, finding that it was usually left out of power… seems to be of the theory that if it hasn’t worked out yet, maybe it will if we do it again. In short, they’ve formed a coalition, with one of the new parties, Citizen’s Movement (which, outside the State of Jalisco, has almost no presence) to form a anti-PRI, anti-López Obrador coalition.

For the ideologically pure PRD members, this leaves Morena or Citizen’s Movement. The latter was a re-boot of the mortibund “Convergence” Party, which was briefly López Obrador’s political home after leaving the PRD. At the time, its appeal was mostly to middle-class leftists, barely holding on to its registration (which requires winning at least two percent of the national vote). López Obrador brought new blood into the party, “frenimies” like Marcelo Ebrard –his sucessor as “mayor” of Mexico City, and a rival for leadership of the Mexican left. Although López Obrador, with his support mostly from the working class, has moved on to the new Morena Party, as a home for the “liberal” left (with their commitment more to social reforms than economic ones), the Citizens’ Movement has established itself in a few places, notably in the State of Jalisco. There, where PAN was identified with the more reactionary elements in the Catholic hierachy, and PRI’s unsavory reputation for corruption was always a factor, and PRD infighting was tearing the leftist alternative apart, the Citizens’ Movement made substantial gains, even capturing Guadalajara’s municipal government its first time out.

Perhaps sensibly, the Citizens’ Movement … at least hoping to preserve its position in Jalisco, joined the PAN-PRD coalition, moderately demanding the two major parties support its own candidates in that state, in return for their support for the PAN selected Presidential candidate. Meaning, socialists supporting a neo-liberal nationally, in return for neo-liberals supporting socialists locally.

The Mexican Green Party… often sneered at as the “Show me the green” Party… has survived as an appendage of the PRI since leaving the coalition that elected Vicente Fox, who denied the Greens control of the Secretariat for the Environment. That was back when the “Ecological Green Party of Mexico” was actually interested in ecological issues. Since then, while it pushes a “green” bill in the legislature every now and again, it’s become just the PRI for “juniors”…If anything, the best analogy is the Greens are to the PRI as the U.S. Libertarian Party is to the Republicans. In other words, a party for those who generally agree with the power elite, but consider themselves too sophisticated to consort with the rabble.

For all that, the PRI — saddled with corruption scandal after corruption scandal, and desperate to show a new face — has chosen as its candidate a PAN politician! Unable to find an acceptable candidate among the party leadership (one with a chance of winning, anyway), they changed the party rules to allow for an “external candidate”, and turned to Calderon and Peña Nieto cabinet minister, José Antonio Meade. While a rather bland figure, he doesn’t upset anyone, but doesn’t seem to excite them either. Economic issues have never played a major role in Mexican presidential elections (except for gaining or losing the tacit support of the United States) but as Secretary of the Treasury, he may be able to gain the support of important business leaders, especially those made nervous by AMLO’s leftist discourse, and worried about the future of NAFTA.

Who knows what the Alliance will do? Founded by long time teachers’ union boss Ester Elba Gordillo when she was thrown out of PRI for her cozying up with the Fox Administration, the Alliance has been a stalking horse for the two biggest parties, sometimes in coalition with PRI or PAN, and in others, fielding its own candidates for the purpose of draining off votes from other parties. Notably, in 2006, the Alliance mounted a serious campaign in Oaxaca, not to win, but to pull votes from the PRD, which would have won the presidency had there not been a (suspiciously high number of) votes for the Alliance candidate.

That PRD candidate, by the way, was Andres Manuel López Obrador, whose near capture of the Presidency, and the fallout from that election, led to the break-up of the neat divisions on the political playing field.

Morena, having grown overnight into one of the big three, is the “new” left. With PRD having turned against it’s former leader, it has to find its coalition partners where it can. That the Workers’ Party (PT), the rump of the old Communist Party, is joining with Morena, makes perfect sense. What makes no sense is the announcement that the Social Encounter is also joining in.

Social Encounter claims “Christian Humanism” as its ideology, though it appears more “Christian” in the sense that right-wing U.S. Fundamentalists are “Christian” than in the usual sense of applying the principals of Catholic social teachings and the philosophical tradition based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas to politics and ethics. Founded in Baja California, where it used the “fish logo” as its own logo (something a little too obvious to use nationally), Social Encounter’s platform… outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage prominently mentioned… have roiled Morena, which included the country’s most prominent feminists among its more loyal members, and … in unveiling its intended presidential cabinet included eight highly qualified women among the 16 prospective posts… including a woman as Secretary of Goverance, the de facto Vice-President and “Home Secretary”.

With intellectuals able to make or break a candidate (at least on the left), when people like Elena Poniatowska kick up a public fuss (she was photographed holding a sign saying “NO Social Encounter” at the same press conference where the proposed cabinet members were announced) and the actress/feminist/political organizer Jesusa Rodriguez walked out, there could be real trouble for a candidate who seemed unbeatable going into the election.

López Obrador, for all his populism, is socially conservative, so I’m not surprised he would consider taking in the small Social Encounter party. Same-sex marriage and liberalized abortion laws only came to Mexico City after his tenure as head of the government ended. Its widely acknowledged there was the political will and support to pass both measures, but during his tenure, they weren’t brought forward for fear of a backlash by conservatives that would interfere with his own presidential ambitions (and those of the then powerful PRD) as well as AMLO’s own personal reluctance to support the measures.

This is a strange election. With the left joining the right to fight the centerists (who turned to the right to find a centerist who will stay in the center) on one hand, while fending off the left on the other, and the left is courting the far right, perhaps we need to stop talking about where anyone is in the outfield, and start asking “who’s on first? And what’s on second?”

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Will Canada have to subsidize the cartels?

13 December 2017

So, Canada is gonna sell it’s own marijuana next year, at what they say are below-market prices.  Although the rationale is undercutting the black market, and ending smuggling,  Canadian consumption far outstrips production … only about 30% of domestic consumption is domestically grown.  So where is the other 70% to come from?

I don’t really care what Canadians do, but wonder if the country can provide enough for its domestic market, or whether it will be forced to exploit our Mexican one. Yeah, I understand the Canadians produce quite a bit, but they have a short growing season, and … correct me if I’m wrong… they grow a lot in energy-hogging grow houses. We have two growing seasons here, effectively all of it for export (illegally). However, the areas where marijuana is grown are also areas short of water, and marijuana uses a lot more water than our traditional food crop, corn (240 gallons per pound, v 120 gallons per pound of corn).

California? Canadians are going to have to deal with the higher labor costs there, as well as the water problem.

Add to the legal issues in Mexico (solvable only in theory… unfair agricultural export/import policies under NAFTA are a hot button issue now, and only going to get more so as we go into our presidential campaign this coming year).

How they’re going to work out legal exports is something to ponder. I don’t know if any more Canadian companies would even be welcome here . . . Hate to tell those nice people way up north, but throughout Latin America, Canadian firms are considered the pits when it comes to human rights abuses and unfair labor practices.   And, given the history of foreign exploitation in the agricultural export business in Latin America over the centuries (sugar,coffee,bananas, etc.), I am a little fearful of what will happen when “big ag” moves into the marijuana market.

I’m sure the plan was thought through on the consumer end, but on the producer end, I have my doubts.

 

Eppur se mueve… or the Primate directive

7 December 2017

It’s official.  Norberto Rivera, Primate of Mexico  is finally going.  He is, to no one’s surprise, being replaced by Carlos Aguilar Retes, Bishop of Tlalnepantla , who only received his red hat 14 months ago.  Aguilar’s surprise elevation was widely seen as a sign of Pope Francis’ dissatisfaction with Rivera’s elitist style and his too-chummy relationship with Carlos Salinas and the political class… what the political left here refers to as the “mafia of power”.

While the new Primate is said to be personally close to Enrique Peña Nieto (he assisted Peña Nieto in untangling the impediments to his second marriage), he doesn’t carry the baggage that Rivera brought in with him when he first came to the Metropolitan Cathedral in 1995.  As Elena Reina reported for El País [Madrid] on Aguilar’s elevation to the Cardinalate:

Aguilar has been an important religious actor in the country. He was president of both the Mexican and Latin American Episcopate. “When he was president of the episcopate his relations with Rivera were very bad. Rivera comes from a crudely triumphalist Church , which wants to aggressively influence public debate, resorting to strong statements and even blackmail. [Aguilar] Retes is more sophisticated in political terms, is not [he and Rivera] are so different ideologically, but that he is more audacious in the use of politics, “says Bernardo Barranco, the Mexican sociologist specializing in religious matters.

It’s impossible not to see the Primate as a political player, especially with a watershed election coming up. While Rivera and the “old guard” churchmen were bending the laws on clerical participation in politics to back conservative and neo-liberal candidates, and it can be expected tha Aguilar’s own politics veers towards the rights, he is known as a consensus builder, which would be to the Church’s advantage in a time of social and political transformation. As de facto head of the Mexican Church, his elevation to the Metropolitan Archdiocese signals Rome’s support for a more pluralistic and flexible Church, responsive to the people and not the elites… but one more willing to engage in the political and social arena.

Plato, Bertrand Russell, Pablo Escobar, Jesus, and AMLO

5 December 2017

Mexican political commentators just love to splash around their erudition. Defending AMLO’s remarks about possibly considering an amnesty for those involved in the narcotics export trade, Federico Arreola

How did I get dragged into all this?

(SDPNoticias.com) manages to drag in Plato, Karl Popper, and Bertrand Russell to build his defense of the Morena candidate. You can read the whole thing here, but what it comes down to is guys like Plato (as explained by Popper and Russell) are raising issues not so much because they see their suggestion as the one and only means to an end, but because they are opening a dialog.

And, given the responses from the usual suspects to that “dialog opening” suggestion on who to proceed with the “drug and violence” issue, it doesn’t sound like too many political figures outside AMLO’s camp want to even consider alternatives.  PAN chair Ricardo Anaya dismissed AMLO’s talk of amnesty as “loco”.  He expanded just a bit, referring to Colombia’s “amnesty” for Pablo Escobar as proof that it wouldn’t work… although one badly considered plan, under other circumstances, hardly counts as proof no plan would work.  Lord Russell would dismiss that bit of illogic with a sneer.

OK, so prison wasn’t so bad for me…

Margarita Zavala (Mrs. Felipe “indicted by the world court for genocide” Calderón) said she preferred criminals to go to jail.  Okey dokie.  I suppose building prisons to house the estimated 400,000 Mexicans directly tied to the narcotics industry in one way or another is a public works initiative.  Points for thinking outside the box, an finally coming up with some kind of policy initiative in her lackluster campaign for the Presidency.

Mexico City’s mayor (and possible Citizens’ Front candidate for President), Miguel Angel Mancera, frets that an amnesty means that one has sanctioned the whole business, and would effectively legalize organized crime:

Amnesty means a law of oblivion, a law of forgiveness, and the truth is that this would sanction behavior related to drug trafficking… it would stop being a crime.

I donno. Mancera states the obvious, that amnesty means a law of oblivion (at least as far as the state is concerned), but I don’t see that it sanctions the actions by any means. José López Portillo was in no way sanctioning guerilla uprisings when he sent an amnesty bill to Congress in 1978, nor was Carlos Salinas justifying the Zapatistas in his January 1994 amnesty decree.

And, naturally, the heads of the various military branches all poo-pooed the idea… even when pointed out that some of them might be eligible for amnesty.

I’m no Benito Juarez, but so what?

But, my favorite objection came from PRD’s Ángel Ávila Romero. Ávila Romero rejects the idea, not because it might not be legal (although it apparently would, and apparently does have precedent) but because it is … for lack of a better term… too Jesusy.

…forgiveness comes from a religious concept that is applied to the state. Mexico is a secular state. Juarez separated religion from politics because mixing the two can cause social polarization.

Not a bad argument really, though I recall Juarez (a former seminarian) forgiving and forgetting a lot of French soldiers and imperial hangers-on after Maximiliano was taken care of. Did he slip and think of Jesus? Or maybe Maimonides (“Better 99 guilty go free, than an innocent man wrongly suffer)? Or Carlos Salinas?

866,593

5 December 2017

866,593 valid signatures are required for an independent presidential candidacy. 

Jamie Rodriguez, “El Bronco”… the wealthy businessman and long time PRI politician, who won the governorship in Nuevo Leon in 2015 running as an independent, is so far the closest to garnering 866,593 petition signatures among the five people seeking to be included on the Presidential ballot in the July national election.  The deadline for submiting petitions is in mid-February, and, having already gained over 50% of the signatures required, is more likely than any of the other five independents to be included on the presidential ballot.

In second place in the scramble for signatures is Margarita Zavala, with almost 30% of the needed signatures.  The other three… former PRD Deputy Armando Ríos Piter, newscaster Pedro Ferriz de Con, and human rights activist and traditional nahua healer María de Jesús Patricio Martinéz, are all far behind.

“El Bronco” and Zavala have advantages that make me question how “independent” the leading independents really are.  El Bronco’s not all that surprising victory in the Nuevo Leon election came at a time when his own party was held in odium by the voters, and his main PAN opponent was a non-entity.  Other than a splashy “tough on crime” (at least street crime, like auto theft), he hasn’t governed any differently than any other PRI governor.  Zavala … the wife of former president Felipe Calderón and a former senator herself… was considered a shoo-in for the PAN nomination  Unlike the situation in the United States, where one party did have a candidate with a similar background, Zavala’s ambitions were blind-sided both by party insurgents, and … PAN recognizing it has no chance of recapturing the presidency, and fearing the likely victory of the leftist Morena party of Andres Manuel López Obrador, has opted to join a coalition with PRD and the smaller Citizen’s Movement Party.  Zavala, being absolutely unacceptable to the other coalition parties, has struck out on her own.

Rodriguez … with his own personal wealth, not to mention the relatively intact client base he built up during his 33 years in various offices as a PRI politician… and Zavala, with at least a faction of the well-oiled PAN machine to chip in… of course have a huge advantage over the others.  It seems that the Nuevo Leon governor has also benefited from having control of his state’s bureaucracy.  More than one Nuevo Leon official and office-holder has “volunteered” to coordinate the petition drives. 

This is the problem I always expected to arise with “independent” candidates. How independent are they, really? Either the candidate has a lot of money behind them (making the elections as corrupt as those in the United States, dependent on campaign “donations), is a ringer for a party or party faction… or both. The payoff, of course, is the public financing for a campaign, beyond making a point and possibly actually winning office.

“Marichuy”… Patricio Martinéz… while she is the choice of a congress of indigenous organizations and the Zapatistas, is probably the only real “independent” in the race. And, of course, has the least amount of signatures.

Reporte Indigo (4 December 2017) A paso veloz en la carrera independiente; ‘Bronco’ reúne más de mil firmas por hora

More of the same, but less corruption

3 December 2017

That’s what the one “official” presidential candidate — José Antonio Meade for the PRI — is promising.  Widely touted as “Mr. Clean”, mostly for not being the member of any political party (he served in the PANista Calderón Administration as well as the present PRI one), Meade had been, until last week, Secretary of the Treasury.  As such, he will be credited, or blamed, for state of the economy when the formal campaign season officially gets underway (AMLO has not formally announced his candidacy, although that is scheduled … with an eye towards symbolism… for 12 December, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe).

Having to sell the PRI brand, when at least a dozen former governors and other party leaders are either in prison, under indictment and at large, or skirting by on technicalities, creating the impression of a “new and improved” PRI will be only the first challenge he faces.

How much real support there is for continuity is the big question.  The “reforms” over the last two administrations may have improved Mexico’s economic situation, but the cost seen by individual voters, coupled with the on-going “drug war” have worn down the public.  And, economic issues have never proven all that important in Mexican elections.

I don’t remember where I saw it, but the PRI strategy for this election seems to come down to just hanging on.  Given that the first past the post candidate wins the presidency (even if, like Peña Nieto, that only accounts for less than a third of the popular vote), a bland candidate in a crowded field makes sense.  AMLO is certainly “controversial” and everyone can find at least one or two of his proposals they disagree with.  There may, or may not, be two or three independents running this year (they need to gather 866,000 signatures to even qualify for the ballot, and time is starting to run out) and given the problems the coalition PAN-PRD-MC “Citizens Front” has been having on finding a compromise candidate, there may be as many as seven or eight names on the ballot.  The PRI can probably count safely on 20 to 25% of the electorate, no matter who the candidate is, and the majority parties have a history of supporting (surreptitiously or otherwise), minor party candidates in order to split the opposition vote.

In other words, PRI’s best bet is winning over enough of the anyone but the PRI vote to squeak out a victory at about 30 percent.  If not, at least to become the largest of the opposition (which, with a third of Congress chosen by proportional representation) would position them to deal with the presumably smaller opposition parties and thwart AMLO’s more radical propositions, and preserve the status quo.

From Animal Politica:

In his first speech after registering as PRI presidential candidate for the presidency, José Antonio Meade promised continuity with the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, whom he praised as “the architect of change”, although he also said that his party should self-criticism.

“…Let’s finish once and for all with the idea that this country has to be reinvented every six years. We must not demolish everything, we must not change everything,” Meade said this Sunday at the PRI national headquarters.

“We bet on experience …on knowledge and not on confrontation; on  preparation and not on improvisation, on programs, not on whims; on  institutions and the law, and not on prophecies. The revelations can not replace effort, preparation and work, “he added.

In his 30 minute, Meade continued praising Peña Nieto, for his “talent and sensitivity” in  transforming the country in areas such as energy, and creating more than 3 million jobs in his administration.

“The real change was under the leadership of a Mexican with courage, courage, and love for Mexico,” said Meade. “We are going to strengthen what has already been done.”

[…]

Without referring specifically to [several recent scandals], Meade said that his party should strengthen the areas in which it has  done well, and identify those  “realities that hurt us.”

Among the promises that he launched, is that his government, in case of winning, will launch a “frontal and definitive fight against corruption

 

Go forth and sin no more

3 December 2017

Ballsy!

Speaking in Quechultenango Guerrero — a stronghold of the “Los Ardillos” cartel — MORENA president Andrés Manuel López Obrador,  did not rule out the possibility of offering amnesty to cartel leaders as a means to ending violence and guaranteeing  peace in the country.

Although speaking in a community where no one from his own party is willing to run for the municipal presidency for fear of meeting the same fate as Armando López Solano, the Citizens’ Movement candidate for that position assassinated two weeks ago, AMLO said he is willing to convince his party’s militants to discuss amnesty, criticizing the previous and present federal governments’ security strategies. He added that, if he wins the Presidency next year, he will he will explore all possibilities to ensure peace and tranquility in the country.

Among those strategies, he said, he does not rule out offering amnesty, even to the the cartel leaders, along with demanding that the United States government implement programs to reduce consumption by its own people.

“We have to talk with Mexicans, with everyone, and we have to ask everyone to help to bring peace to the country (…). We are going to explore all the possibilities, from decreeing an amnesty while listening also to the victims, to demanding the government of the United States to carry out campaigns to reduce drug consumption, “he said.

El Imparcial (Nogales, Sonora): AMLO plantea analizar amnistía a líderes del narco para garantizar la paz, 2 December 2017

El Universal (Mexico City): AMLO analiza amnistía a líderes del narco para garatizar la paz, 2 December 2017

While this made me think of the fictional president Diego Nava’s undelivered speech in the recent Mexican political thriller “Ingobernable”*, what at this point is a vague outline of a suggested discussion point, rather than a policy initiative, is still something that has until now been a taboo among the political class. Lópéz Obrador has occasionally been compared to Donald Trump in his ability to make outrageous, headline-grabbing pronouncements, but — unlike Trump — the “out of the box” comments are not off the cuff, but are calculated statements, details of which are usually not as “radical” as they first seem.

AMLO earlier proposed an amnesty for corrupt officials. As one might expect, the commentarati were of the “no.. lock em up and throw away the key” mentality, but given the obvious difficulty (or reluctance) the government has been having in even attempting to implement a rather mild anti-corruption policy and program, some sort of amnesty is likely to be seen as a step forward.  No one expects corruption to disappear, only to be curbed.    What seems to be suggested by the MORENA candidate is some sort of “truth and justice” commission that would probably let the smaller crooks go, and seek reparations from the bigger offenders.

When it comes to the gangsters, it may be hard to understand, but there often seems to be more empathy for them as “honest criminals” than for “corruptos”.  The gangsters are seen (not by everyone, not by a long shot) as people who had to find some way to survive in a depressed rural economy, and who are as much victims of U.S. policy and consumer demand as anyone else here.  It’s not that people like the gangsters, it’s that they accept that, absent an economic policy that depresses rural wages and opportunity, and an all-too-tempting market next door that offers huge financial rewards, the problem would not affect them.

And, given the mood of the Mexican electorate towards the United States, the suggestion that “our” drug war is “their” problem is good politics…

 

*   SPOILER ALERT!   SPOILER ALERT!  SPOILER ALERT!

 

… that is, assuming AMLO doesn’t end up like Diego Nava, murdered in an elaborate plot involving the CIA and Mexican elites for planning to end the drug war (among other things) to bring peace to the country.