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No, AMLO is not Mexico’s Trump

Equating Mexico’s president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador with Donald Trump may be absurd, but that hasn’t stopped mainstream media from running with it.

Richard Seymour


Mexico’s answer to Donald Trump.

Let’s say that again: Mexico’s answer to Donald Trump.

Mexico’s Donald Trump.

More than a passing political resemblance to Donald Trump.

Mexico is electing its own Donald Trump.

Mexico’s ‘tropical messiah’ is a Trump-style politician.

These are the headlines and hot takes regarding the winner of Mexico’s presidential election. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the left-wing candidate of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), took a lead of some 31% over his nearest rival. What, then, makes him like Trump, who lost the popular vote?

There are many reasons. López Obrador is a left-populist who is talking about rolling back aspects of the Washington Consensus, and redistributing a degree of wealth and power to poor and indigenous people. This doesn’t, however, include any nationalisations, nor does it mean withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He attacks the political establishment, especially the corrupt, murderous, cartel-linked Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) whose monopoly on Mexican state power only began to break down in 2000. He talks about ending the drug war, through which these corrupt alliances between counterinsurgent governors and drug cartels have been forged.

As an example of this, look at the mass graves coming up in Veracruz state, representing up to 20,000 bodies in total. These are evidence against former state governor, the PRI’s Javier Duarte. The same governor allowed police to use ‘death squad tactics’ against a number of drug suspects, illustrating the symbiosis between drug lords and state repression. So, part of what has happened is a popular rejection of brutal cartel politics.

López Obrador’s coalition is rather heteroclite, even including right-wing evangelicals, and his ambitions are ultimately limited by the system within which he will have to work. Nonetheless, it is a near miracle that he was permitted to actually win.

In the history of Mexican politics, there are several ways in which leftist challengers have been dealt with, but fraud, murder and assassinations have been foremost among them. As recently as 1994, ruling-party defector Donaldo Colossio was murdered.

In 2006, the election was stolen – from the likely winner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. It was so close a thing that the military was prepared for a coup, with a special unit dispatched to take control of Congress. It is less clear that the 2012 election was stolen but there was a great deal of fraud. And in this election, there has been an unprecedented number of murders of local candidates and party workers, and a great deal of associated theft of ballots and ballot boxes.

To put it concisely, this election was about whether or not Mexico is a democracy: it never has been before.

So, again, why is the new Mexican president like Trump, who described Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, and shrugged off the killing of migrants by his supporters? Trump, who is in favour of death-squad justice, especially in dealing with drugs? Trump, whose gangster capitalist links are far more like those of the PRI? Well, there is this one thing.

As one of the snarky pieces comparing him to Trump puts it, López Obrador refuses to accept ‘adverse results in consecutive presidential elections’. Why? Well, he has this thing about rigged something something, I don’t know. It’s ridiculous.

The New York Times reports that he ‘refused to accept the result’ in 2006, which election was definitely rigged, accusing ‘the political and economic elite of rigging the election’, which they definitely did. The clown.

John Oliver, patron saint of Centrist Dads everywhere, described López Obrador as Mexico’s Donald Trump. Among the reasons, he chortled that in response to defeats in 2006 and 2012, ‘his supporters occupied the city’s central square for months, and that is ridiculous’. Lol at people protesting rigged elections. That makes them just like Donald Drumpf the Big Orange Mean Poo-Poo Head.

I’m not throwing in John Oliver merely to have a gratuitous pop. The late-night talk show hosts are all politically timid mummy-birds, puking up pre-masticated ideas, plucked from brain-dead newspapers, into the wide, expectant beaks of their audience. So that’s absolutely not a gratuitous pop. But they tend, on that ground, to be very sensitive to the ideological consensus they both form and, through laughter, police. Oliver is, to that extent, very observant.

The idea that López Obrador and his supporters are in some sense ridiculous subtends a lot of the coverage. Notwithstanding ritual, sentimental observations about how the Mexican people deserve much better – ‘cough, cough, no, good luck to ‘em, bless ‘em, lol, wonderful people the Mexicans, ahem’ – there is a basic underlying racist contempt, much as there was for Aristide and Chavez, both of whom were ‘clowned’ by the US media when they were not being incorrectly identified as ‘General’ in order to convey that they, and not their military opponents, were tyrants.

In the case of López Obrador, the idea is that he is a cult leader for his stupid followers. (The New York Times: ‘something of a messiah’. The Atlantic: ‘messiah complex’. Financial Times: ‘messiah complex’. And so on.) The complex political debates in Mexico, the ways in which heterogeneous groups have been arguing and vying over electoral and social mobilisation strategies for years, culminating in this moment, are not really of interest in this coverage. The idea that López Obrador’s supporters have a complex relationship to any electoral candidate, and may have ambitions and strategies of their own, hasn’t been on the radar for years, so why should it be now? Such debates may as well be taking place in a Martian dialect.

No. It’s very simple. X is a bad man/woman (because boo). All bad men/women are Trump. X is Trump. X is lulz. The syllogism to which all enlightened persons of good faith are to defer in these troubled times. Keep it in mind at all times. Whenever there is trouble, disruption, a hitch in the normally smooth functioning of things, this is your catechism.       

Richard Seymour is the author of several books, including Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. He blogs at Lenin’s Tomb (leninology.blogspot.com). The above article is reproduced from the website of Jacobin magazine (www.jacobinmag.com).

US sending guns, crime to Mexico

Sarah Kinosian and Eugenio Weigend

ON a visit to Mexico City in August 2016, then-US presidential candidate Donald Trump said, ‘No one wins in either country when human smugglers and drug traffickers prey on innocent people, when cartels commit acts of violence, when illegal weapons and cash flow from the United States into Mexico.’

Since then, Trump has continued to complain that Mexicans bring crime northwards, while studiously ignoring the very real threat that US firepower flowing in the other direction poses to Mexicans.

Although Mexico has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, Mexican criminal organisations have no trouble buying firearms, which they use to control territory, extort business owners, and threaten citizens as well as members of the security forces. The consequences are lethal. In 2002, there were more than 2,600 murder investigations involving firearms.  By 2016, that number had increased to nearly 13,000.

Most of the weapons used by criminal groups in Mexico originate in the United States. Each year, an average of 253,000 firearms cross the border, the overwhelming majority of which come from the Southwest states of California, Texas and Arizona. From 2009 to 2014, more than 70% of firearms – nearly 74,000 – seized by Mexican authorities and then submitted for tracing by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms came from the United States. Many of these guns were semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 and AK-47, cartel favourites that Mexican citizens cannot buy legally.

To stock their arsenals, Mexican criminal organisations exploit lax US gun laws, relying in part on straw purchases. A ‘straw purchase’ is when a person who is prohibited by federal law from buying firearms contracts a third party to buy them on their behalf. Because there is no limit on firearm transactions in many states in the US, anyone who can pass a background check may buy multiple military-grade firearms in a single visit – which they can then pass along to criminals.

Sometimes firearms traffickers do not even have to lie to purchase a weapon. Although licensed US firearms dealers must conduct background checks and maintain records, among other measures, unlicensed dealers at gun shows, flea markets and other private venues may sell guns without conducting a background check, inspecting a buyer’s identification or documenting the sale in any way.

The business of violence can be highly profitable, and the American gun industry is cashing in, with US sellers and manufacturers arming both sides of Mexico’s conflict. Research from the University of San Diego has shown that half of US gun dealers benefit financially from the US-Mexico illegal gun trade, to the tune of $127.2 million in 2012.

Meanwhile, manufacturers also sell weapons and ammunition to Mexican security forces as they fight well-armed criminal organisations. Between 2015 and 2016, US-based gun manufacturers signed nearly $276 million in commercial firearms deals with Mexico. Other US defence companies signed agreements worth more than $560 million during that period in planes, helicopters and other equipment to outfit Mexico’s military and police.

The US government knows there’s a problem. In February 2017, then-US Homeland Security Secretary John F Kelly and then-Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong reportedly discussed the flow of guns across the border. Then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighted the issue as an area of cooperation between the two countries during his visit to Mexico a few weeks later. And Trump even signed an executive order in February 2017 claiming he would ‘strengthen enforcement of Federal law’ related to illegal gun trafficking.

But if the Trump administration actually wants to solve the problem, it needs to change laws, not just enforce them. The same mechanisms that allow for guns to be trafficked within the United States – unregulated gun shows and online sales, bad actor gun dealers and laws that allow people to buy dozens of military-grade assault weapons and privately resell them without documentation – are the same mechanisms that make it so easy for Mexican criminals to arm themselves.

In the United States, trafficking guns is a high-profit, low-risk activity. There is no federal law against gun trafficking within the country, and although some convicted straw purchasers could get prison time, more often than not they merely face community service or a year of probation.

Many factors have contributed to violence in Mexico. The river of iron from the United States, however, plays a key role in the country’s high death toll. Just as a multibillion-dollar border wall will do little to stop the tide of drugs coming into the US, it will do nothing to prevent military-grade weapons from pouring out of it.

If Trump is concerned about organised crime and violence in Mexico, he might want to address the United States’ role in arming it.    

Sarah Kinosian is a programme officer covering arms trafficking, US defence policy and citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America. Eugenio Weigend is a senior policy analyst for the guns and crime policy team at the Center for American Progress. The above article was first published in the Los Angeles Times (2 March 2017).

*Third World Resurgence No. 329/330, January/February 2018, pp 48-50


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