For the past several months, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has been telling us that his goal as Presidente de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos will be to bring about “La Cuarta Transformación.” But after listening to the two speeches he gave the day of his inauguration on Saturday, December 1, the “fourth transformation” seems to be nothing more than a vague, shady plan: to return Mexico to an imagined idyllic past.
AMLO has discovered where Mexico went wrong, where the country lost its course that led it to its current national disaster. It wasn’t endemic corruption, the narco wars or a long string of inept administrations: it was the adoption of neoliberalism provoked by the 1982 economic crisis.
Prior to the arrival of neoliberalism, AMLO paints a Mexico that, since the 1950s, had been a boundless bonanza with high economic growth, jobs galore, and happy citizens. Then, someone let in the serpent called neoliberalism into this Garden of Eden and everything went to hell. Corruption grew exponentially, violence appeared everywhere, jobs disappeared and millions of unhappy citizens were expelled from this idyllic country, forced to migrate north into the badlands of the United States.
The solution is simple: return the Republic to its former pristine economic, political, social, moral state, with such a high economic growth that AMLO will be able to build a new airport, un Tren Maya, an oil refinery, and 100 new universities. He will provide high-quality medical care for everyone, just like in Canada, he says. There is even more: free college tuition, monthly handouts of up to $3600 pesos ($180 dollars) to unemployed youths who have dropped out of school, increase the elderly’s pension to $1274 pesos ($64 dollars) a month so they can live a dignified life, with two dollars a day!
Yes, there seems to be something for everyone in AMLO’s piñata, subsidies for all just like in the good old days of nationalism before neoliberalism. El problema is that he doesn’t tell us exactly how he’ll pay for all these goodies. The pay and budget cuts for government personnel is a paltry amount that will not suffice to pay for all these expenses and subsidies. Will AMLO force more Mexicans to pay their income taxes? No, he won’t because “el pueblo” knows what it’s best for them and AMLO is a peaceful, loving leader who listens to their will. At the present time, less than 50% of Mexicans declare their taxes and I seriously doubt they will suddenly get the urge to do so. He can’t rely on oil either, so maybe El Presidente has a plan to miraculously multiply the meager revenues at his disposal in order to realize all his grandiose plans.
As for the corruption and forced migration that the neo-liberalist serpent brought with it, AMLO seems to be either ignorant of Mexican History or wants to rewrite it. I’m sure he must remember the legendary corruption of the Miguel Alemán administration (1946-1952). If he needs a refresher, I suggest El Presidente read Carlos Fuentes’s, La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962) where he can be reminded of how the revolutionaries, who seized power after La Revolución, betrayed its ideals and created a corrupt system beyond anything Porfirio Díaz ever dreamed of. And if El Presidente doesn’t want to read, he can just check out Luis Estrada’s film, La ley de Herodes (1999).
Perhaps then he’ll admit that the genealogy of corruption has deep roots in the past, way beyond neoliberalism and that it’ll take much more than some simplistic moral proposition to eradicate this evil embedded in our social and political fabric. There will hardly be many mystic imitations of AMLO’s illuminated, honest ways, as he seems to think will happen now that he is the anointed one, shaman limpias and all. With all due respect to Elvis Costello, in this case, something is funny about peace, love, and understanding.
Neither is neoliberalism the cause of the massive migrations of Mexicans, as AMLO claims. It may have exacerbated it but it’s not the cause. Throughout the twentieth century, there have been migrations to the USA but it was in the 1970s when the first giant waves of Mexican migrants arrived in El Norte as millions of campesinos abandoned the countryside because of the government’s failed Land Reform Program. This is clearly a decade before the neoliberalism of the eighties. In fact, by the time the 1982 crisis crushed the Mexican economy, the Simpson-Mazzoli Act was already in the works. This legislation would lead to the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 that procured amnesty for nearly 3 million undocumented migrants, mostly from Mexico.
So, the neoliberalist bogie man AMLO has created doesn’t seem to mesh with historical reality. What is more, there are some blatant contradictions. First, El Señor Presidente bemoans the fact that many Mexicans have had to leave the country because of the failed policies of neoliberalism while acknowledging that these exiles are today the strongest economic pillar of the country as they send home $30 billion dollars each year. Therefore, we can conclude that AMLO wants these migrants to be in the U.S., he needs them working in El Norte; otherwise, there will be some dire consequences for the Mexican economy. Moreover, if AMLO is a stalwart against neoliberalism: Why is he suddenly for free-market economies? Why does he support replacing NAFTA with the newly signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement? Shouldn’t he reject this type of treaty as emblematic of failed policies of neoliberalism as he did prior to Trump’s presidency? Is he possibly a closet free-marketer?
Mexicans have given AMLO ample power and a big mandate to put the country on track to somewhere better, but it certainly it’s not a return to the past, especially not the past of the golden years of the PRI with its perfect dictatorship. Nostalgia, it appears, is playing mind games with AMLO and his followers, the amlovers. After periods of upheaval, there is a tendency to be overcome with longing for so-called happier times that we invent to assuage our wounded social being. Hopefully, AMLO will rise to this historic moment and come up with a better vision for Mexico than what he offered at his inauguration, which is nothing more than a combination of government subsidies along with New Age sentiment of peace, love, purification of society, and nostalgia for an idyllic past that never was.