Parsing AMLO’s Campaign-Launch Speech

April 2, 2018 By 0 Comments
(Photo Credit: El Diario de Juárez)


Yesterday, Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched his general-election campaign in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, a location charged with symbolism due to its proximity to the US border; it is also the city where the iconic president Benito Juárez took refuge during the French invasion of the 1860’s and where a key early battle was fought in the Mexican Revolution that sent dictator Porfirio Díaz into exile. Following, an analysis of the key points of his speech.

According to our analysis, the problem began with the application of the so-called neoliberal model that has failed to produce results even in quantitative terms. In 30 years, discounting population growth, real economic growth has been zero… But perhaps the most harmful aspect of this economic policy is that it has unleashed the most colossal and damaging corruption that has been registered in the history of this country…never in the history of Mexico since the colonial period have we suffered from so much corruption.

  • The goal here is to very clearly associate neoliberalism with Mexico’s rampant corruption. This is also red meat for AMLO’s progressive base.

The defenders of the current model…usually cite as an example of its supposed successes the benefits of NAFTA, which are not completely non-existent, because we cannot deny that certain sectors of the economy have benefited…but at an extremely high cost and, in general terms, with very few results…If it were true that NAFTA only benefited Mexico, our economy would not be stagnant nor would there be migration.

  • A moderate critique of NAFTA, currently under renegotiation. AMLO’s hope is that the negotiations will be extended until after the election, to allow his government to weigh in, if elected. But neither here nor anywhere else has he threatened to pull out of the agreement. In fact, further on in the speech, he reaffirms his support for it, thus creating an appreciable gap between his rhetoric and actual policy position on the issue.

Recently, a migrant in… Baja California came up to me and said: “Sir, just as Juárez separated the church from the state, you must, with the help of the people, separate the economic power from the political power.” This is the new reform, that the government must cease to be a committee at the service of a rapacious minority.

  • Here, AMLO is again wrapping himself up in the mantle of Juárez, at the base of whose statue the speech was delivered. He is fond of saying this his movement will set off the fourth Mexican revolution, after the Independence, the Civil War, and the 1910 Revolution. Critics have called this grandiose. But couching a struggle in historical terms is not unwise in a nation where the past is so present. (Incidentally, one wonders what Juárez would have to say of his alliance with the openly-religious Partido de Encuentro Social party: see our blog post on this issue here).

The formula we propose consists of terminating corruption to save $500 billion pesos, and also to eliminate the privileges in the government… From the first of December, we will have more public investment, which will be used as seed capital to foster private investment and allocate significant budgets to education…culture, production, job creation, we are going to allocate a sufficient budget to save the countryside and its inhabitants from the abandonment they live in.

  • In this passage, AMLO again demonstrates that – despite years of conservative rhetoric painting him as a messianic radical – that his economic policy is very much by-the-book Keynsianism, using public investment to prime the pump of private investment (even his use of the term “seed capital” shows much he has internalized such Wall Street-style terminology). Rather than erring in seeing him as too radical, the more interesting question, it seems to me, is whether his program is radical enough to tackle Mexico’s severe crisis. Of course, he also lapses into the easy equation of saying there will be enough money wrested from corruption to spend on the long list of priorities the speech goes on to detail, eluding any discussion of the need to tax the wealthy, corporations, and capital gains.

We are also going to a project in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: we are going to rehabilitate the port of Salina Cruz on the Pacific and the port of Coatzacoalcos on the Gulf of Mexico…on this narrowest strip of the nation, we are going to build a cargo train to unite Asia with the east coast of the United States, and all along this strip there are going to be lots of jobs so that the Tabascans, Oaxacans and Chiapanecos won’t have to look for work elsewhere. 

  • This “megaproject” is very controversial in the region’s concerned for its potential environmental impacts and the steamrolling of local people in a very indigenous area – in fact, the area has recently been declared a “Special Economic Zone”, placing it directly under the control of the federal government and, critics say, removing any legal means for local residents to fight back against the projects (for Spanish speakers, see our interview with Salina Cruz activist Rafael Mayoral here). Although AMLO has also promised to respect local voices, this is another example of how the left is still stuck in the big-project “extract and develop” model, which goes a long way to explaining why AMLO has not been embraced by the National Indigenous Council and Zapatista movements.

We will build two new runways at the military air base in Santa Lucía to solve the saturation problem at the current Mexico City airport. In other words, and to be clear, we will suspend construction of the new airport on Lake Texcoco and will this save more than $200 billion pesos.

  • The clearest expression to date of AMLO’s desire to halt the new Mexico City airport (see our blog post on this here).

We do not rule out the possibility of convincing Donald Trump that his foreign policy and, in particular, his contemptuous attitude towards Mexicans are wrong. We are going to be very respectful of the U.S. government, but we are going to demand they respect us Mexicans. Neither Mexico nor its people will be treated like a piñata by any foreign government…May this be heard loud and far: neither with walls nor the use of force will social and safety problems be solved. They will only be solved with development and well-being; peace and tranquility are the fruits of justice.

  • A shot across the bow at Trump as clear as hosting the rally itself on the border. This will play very well at home, where Trump is universally loathed. Considering the abject relationship of the last two PAN and PRI governments with the US, the added advantage is that AMLO is the only candidate who can convincingly pull off this sort of nationalist rhetoric. Whether as a response or not, Trump fired right back, threatening to pull out of NAFTA if Mexico doesn’t halt migration and drug flows. Does AMLO have a Plan B if Trump does go ahead and pull the plug on the agreement?