For years, the leftist parties in Mexico have been at war with each other, which left them in a very weak political position. Lately, their fortune seems to have changed for the best. They should thank their lucky stars since, in many ways, they are the beneficiaries of the Peña Nieto debacle of the last five years and the ascendancy of Trump in American politics. This is certainly the case with good old Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) who, as the political cliché goes, if the Mexican presidential elections were held today, the leftist candidate from MORENA would win.
AMLO has taken advantage of his rise in popularity and tried to look, as they say, presidential, by making a trip to the USA to visit “nuestros connacionales” in Mexican communities of the Unión Americana. It’s a good move on his part. The unexpected Trump victory has presented an opportunity to revamp the negative image that many voters have of AMLO. It is an image that has plagued him since the 2006 elections when, after the close win by Calderón, he threw the Big Berrinche (the Big Tantrum) that closed the famed Reforma Avenue in Mexico City for months.
Unfortunately, many in Mexico will always remember a picture of AMLO at the Zócalo, the very heart of the country, in one of his many demonstrations after the presidential elections, unconsciously imitating that manic guy, Howard Beale, from the classic American movie, Network, face contorted, angry and yelling at the top of his lungs: “al diablo con sus instituciones.” Yes, he sent our institutions to hell, very much the same way Trump is doing nowadays in the USA. So, it is interesting to see AMLO in places like Los Angeles, California, reassuring “nuestros connacionales,” “our migrants,” that our institutions have been redeemed and brought back from hell and will be put at their service to protect them from the Medievalist Trump persecutions.
I doubt, however, the visit to the U.S. was intended to gain votes for AMLO. Surely, he must know that Mexicanos de Afuera living in El Norte are not prone to voting in Mexican elections (around 29,000 cast votes in 2012). The main objective of his visit was to present the candidate in a positive light: to project him in a presidential image; to show a caring politician that will look out for Mexicans no matter where they reside. This stands in stark contrast to Peña Nieto who should have made a similar visit, the kind of visit presidents make to a disaster area, because in some sense that is how the Mexican communities in the U.S. feel after the Trump triumph, as if they were in the midst of a disaster.
AMLO’s handlers will likewise attempt to portray him as a Mexican Bernie Sanders with a benign grandfatherly, socialist image, who at times may be irritated easily, but likewise, has a teddy bear side. His opponents, on the other hand, will constantly remind voters of AMLO’s questionable positions regarding civil society and gay issues; corruption within his own political circle and his inclination to get hot under the collar and send everyone to hell; o sea, que AMLO also has a side very similar to Trump.
The Trump presidency, moreover, has caused some strange commotions on the left, especially regarding an issue that used to be their pan dulce de todos los días: NAFTA. For 24 years, leftist politicians have endlessly criticized and opposed the treaty. We also had the Zapatista Uprising (remember, the first revolution of the 21st century) that unified the left against globalization and neo-liberalism. Now, it sure is a bizarre sight watching on television or reading in newspapers and magazines about politicians, such as AMLO, exhorting Peña Nieto to defend the treaty at all costs.
You would’ve thought that when Trump declared his opposition to NAFTA in the presidential debates, that leftist around Mexico jumped up and down with joy: Hallelujah! Thank you, Trump. We’re finally getting rid of that damn treaty! Nope. A collateral of Trump’s victory was to turn los globalifóbicos, who feared globalization and that President Zedillo attacked and criticized, into globalifílicos who are all in love with globalization and neo-liberalism: ¡Al diablo con sus fronteras y estado-naciones!
I doubt that AMLO brought up the issue of NAFTA on his recent visit to the USA. If he did, he wasted his time, for our compatriots de afuera are as interested in NAFTA as they are in voting in the presidential elections. They’re not like the lovable creature in Spielberg’s ET: unlike him, they don’t want to go home. They want to remain in the United States, but AMLO is betting that his trip to the U.S. will gain him not the votes of these Mexicanos de Afuera; instead, he’s looking for the votes of their family members who have remained in Mexico and who receive monthly remittances from them. He may be right about that.
I do wonder though if any of his left-leaning followers in El Norte asked AMLO questions that are bugging the hell out of me about the left in Mexico: ¿Y los Zapatistas? Where is Marcos, el subcomandante? Whatever happened to the great hero of the anti-globalization movement? What does he think of Trump? Did he take off his mask with joy when Trump won, knowing that in him the Zapatistas had an ally when it came to globalization and neo-liberalist policies? How does Marcos feel about the Mexican Left taking a turn to the right on NAFTA? How does el subcomandante interpret AMLO’s visit to the land of Trump and his apparent acceptance of globalization? These questions are burning because for now there’s nothing but a poetic silence emanating out of la Selva Lacandona.
Unlike Marcos, AMLO is a shrewd political cat aware that he’s on his last political life. The left needs to make bold moves if it wants to attain the mythic presidential chair in Mexico and he’s willing to make them. He knows Trump’s victory has rearranged the political terrain in Mexico. The left represented by Marcos has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Whereas, the left, which AMLO is forging, is perhaps destined to finally attain presidential power. All political parties in Mexico know this and are preparing to bring him down in any way they can. What will happen between now and July 2018? No one knows. What I do know is that we should all get ready for one hell of a political ride, similar to the one that Trump put the U.S. through in the last couple of years.