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Mexican Messiah or Mexican Mahatma?

8 October 2010

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.

(M.K. Gandhi, 1919)

Aguachile, who both in his cyber-persona and under his real name is a well-regarded academic expert on Mexican politics, and generally writes from the left side of the discussion, is highly recommended for your RSS feed.  He seems to have soured on Andre Manuel López Obrador lately, but   I’m not sure AMLO’s political moves are the result of  “twisted logic on the value of democratic representation and institutions“.

Although the PRD, like other left-wing movements, has a tendency to form circular firing squads (and AMLO and his followers are firing away as merrily as the rest), the “twisted logic” was simply a skilled use of party rules… which may be “twisted”, but no more undemocratic than any party maneuvering by a dissident minority.  The event in question was a coalition that might have been electorally sensible but party rules required support of two-thirds plus one of the delegates voting in favor… and — wise as the decision might be — finding one third plus one delegates to oppose the proposition is democratic.

When I wrote Gods, Gachupines and Gringos shortly after the 2006 election (my cut-off point), I said “…the López Obrador alternative presidency appears to be nothing more threatening than a “think tank” and training school for future leaders.” That the founder and leader of the “think tank” is still active shouldn’t be all that surprising.

The dramatic actions — the street demonstrations, the public inaguration of the alternative presidency, and the trappings of a government-in-waiting may have looked somewhat silly but … unlike U.S. “think tanks”, supported by wealthy donors (who expect the product to support their own thoughts), it was a brilliant way to create a populist think tank… or at least the perception of one.  And, while the overt AMLOista factions within the Chamber of Deputies has more or less been absorbed by other factions, the “alternative presidency” has been the source for some of the more progressive legislative and political initiatives of the last few years… and an impediment to some of the “neo-liberal” ones.

More importantly, although probably unintentionally, it has also forced would be AMLO rivals like Marcelo Ebrard  to carve out their own progressive or populist agendas — one thinks here of Victoriano Huerta’s administration, which instigated extremely progressive reforms in  labor and tax codes, as it tried to wean support away from the heirs of Madero during the early Revolution.   And, if not his rivals, at least some in his party, have learned their lessons — and adopted AMLO’s famed ability to put together unlikely coalitions (George Grayson’s “hit piece”, Mexican Messiah, can’t avoid looking in awe at Lopez Obrador’s brilliance in working with the Catholic Church, Carlos Slim, informal vendors unions [often quasi-criminal organizations], the prostitutes union and others on revitalizating the Centro Historico during his tenure as the Federal District Chief).  That the lefter-left-right coalition candidates did so well in state elections throughout the country owes much to AMLO… who opposes party coalitions with the right (not working coalitions with them on specific issues).

Certainly, AMLO has made political blunders — think of the Juanito fiasco, where AMLO supported a “ringer” from the Workers’ Party in a Delegacion election to stand in for his own preferred candidate who was denied her place on the party slate by political maneuvers based in the “twisted logic” of party rules.  The eminently unqualified ringer won, but refused to play along, and had to be forced out of office.   And, there are “personality clashes” — AMLO in what we know of his private life is probably the most abstentious Mexican politician since Lazaro Cardenas… or perhaps Benito Juarez.  AMLO — with his insistence on non-violence and “republican virtue” has often compared himself to Francisco Madero and M.K. Gandhi… both politicos who ended up shot, but both today considered saints.  Saints are not fun to hang around with… and while I’m not going to question the sincerity or patriotism of any public figure, a good number of Mexican politicians, even on the left, are all that comfortable taking a pledge to “virtue”… implying not a vow of poverty, but at least a vow of “austerity” and restraint.

Still, the man is a hero to millions, many of whom are not particularly interested in electoral politics.  Electoral political organizations — with their “twisted logic” — sometimes thwart democracy through their procedures (as may have demonstrated in the reported results of the 2006 presidential election).  In itself, going around the electoral system is not anti-democratic in itself.  The “teabaggers” movement or anti-war demonstrations in the United States are not electoral, but have always been considered legitimate democratic activities. Democracy is more than electoral rules and running for office.

I’ve been noting from time to time since the 2006 election, AMLO never really disappeared, although he was generally frozen out of the mass media.  Lopez Obrador himself has been campaigning — almost non-stop it seems — in rural areas and “under the radar”, covered in provincial media, and by alternative media — bloggers and on-line journals (including one of my main news sources, the on-line SDPNoticias).

With these points in mind, I’m not at all surprised that AMLO is back in the news, and that there has been a concerted effort to discredit him… again.  And, again, it seems to be backfiring.  Felipe Calderón has been widely condemned — from the left, right and center — for his own “twisted logic” in recycling his old — and by now obviously false — accusation that AMLO was — and is — a danger for Mexico.  AMLO, as on so many occasions before, has simply turned the accusations to his own advantage — used the “twisted logic” , if you like, of his persecutors, to open those persecutors to more stinging criticism.

From Gancho:

Aguachile mentioned how it was inappropriate for Calderón to return the Danger for Mexico topic, and reiterate its message once more. True enough, but it was also politically silly, as the skillful response from AMLO demonstrates:

…I have never called Calderón a danger for Mexico, despite the fact that
30,000 Mexicans have lost their lives thanks to his ineptitude and

Oh, snap!

Gancho adds AMLO’s reply was  “not entirely fair”, but since when is  politics is about being fair?  To quote another Gandhism, “First they mock you, then they attack you… then you fight them.”  And, sometimes, as with Gandhi, you win… just not the way you expect. 

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