AMLO in Oaxaca
October 2, 2005
Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador showed up in Oaxaca for a campaign speech. I went down to hear him (couldn’t possibly see, being too short), and stayed uphill on the cobbled street opposite Plaza de La Danza, surrounded by other short people. Half a dozen women wearing delantals sat down on the sidewalk (some took off their shoes) and the men being macho, stood and drank Coca.
AMLO’s speech began with exactly the same phrase Chavez has used, “First, the poor” and I don’t know who copied it from whom. I don’t think of AMLO as being either the Socialist or the Leader with a capital L that Chavez is. The crowd seemed muted, whether because of where I was standing or perhaps Oaxaqueños are too jaded to shout. But AMLO got a laugh when he said Let the government officials go to the same ISSE hospitals the rest of us go to.
I know how funny that was because one of my students told me she fainted, and the doctors scheduled heart tests for three months later, the best they could do.
The obvious things to keep in mind are, that first, the Partido Revolucionario Institucionál (PRI) and the Partido Acción Nacionál (PAN) made a serious effort to prevent AMLO from running for president. That was the kind of mistake that not only brought him many more votes and opportunities than he would have had, but also exposed the link between PRI and PAN.
The link, I believe, is not just immediate political expediency, it is their embrace of the neoliberal model.
The second important fact is that not just in Mexico, but globally, various-sized regions (Latin America, South-East Asian Nations plus China, Japan and Korea, etc.) and/or small communities (Cochibamba, the Zapatistas, etc.) are uniting against neoliberalism. The stranglehold, which the USA oligarchs have obtained via US capital, leaves nothing for social justice, ecological changes, values, or social good, but on the contrary subverts them to enhance economic gain for the elite.
Neoliberalism, in other words, has called into existence its own opposition. And that is very understandable in terms of the global division of labor (pushing most of the world's production capacity out of the USA and Europe, and into China and India) and the cultural/racial divisions that go along with it. Imperialism, or if you prefer the term neoliberalism, is a predatory activity, based on finance-led development, military repression, and concentration of the world's wealth in the hands of the corporate elite.
We human beings, a social species, live within a psychology of self-regulation (we obey the traffic lights, pay our taxes, refrain form breaking various laws, unite in various crises) which has a dynamic of its own. Cooperation and unity are the biological imperative, not war and theft. In many parts of the world people are finally wising up to the reality of a policy by which the economy, the military power, and the society's well-being are controlled by the oligarchy for the benefit of the oligarchy. Lassez-faire and the free market economy ignore, and inevitably undermine the foundations of societies subjected to it.
What's Wrong with Kansas asks why people vote for the very party that is ruining them, and it seems that the only answer is that when one's sense that one's own society is threatened, the counter-move is to grasp ever more fiercely at historic social conventions and cultural ideologies. This happens whether these conventions and ideologies are helpful, or are dangerous.
The disaster in New Orleans is an example of undermining the social contract, and reaping the result, which must be not only death and destruction but a new perception of what it means to embrace neoliberalism. Neoliberalism all over the globe creates dislocation, refugees, the destruction of cultures and their art and their artistic capabilities, and all the sorts of social shit that follow, like poverty, disease and corruption.
In the USA we are watching the rise of fascism, the exposure of racism, and a hatred of foreigners as direct counter-weights to the anomie that neoliberalism creates. In other words, the social counter-pressure in the USA is as dreadful as its cause. But in other places better antidotes are being created.
AMLO has the popular advantage in his campaign, just as Chavez does in Venezuela and Lula did in Brazil, (at least for a while). That is, people know they are being screwed; and worse, the migratory shifts from Mexico to the USA, or from country to city, also attentuate the social fabric. The PAN can wave money and the PRI waves the flag, but what must be realized is that social fabric trumps money. You might not have thought so, but yes, it does, at least if people see in time the chaos coming at them. The traditional working class and the evangelical Christians in the USA embrace fundamentalism to offset the social stress of neoliberalism; the jihadists in the Middle East do so for the same reason. Neoliberalism calls forth neo-conservatism just as surely as it calls for Left-leaning rebellion.
AMLO is trying to maintain his alliance with Cuba and Latin America while avoiding the red flag of overt opposition to the USA or capitalism. I'm sure that the USA will try to prevent (is trying to prevent) his election, since any hint of Socialism just makes the Bush government froth at the mouth. Mexico is in such bad shape, especially the petroleum industry, that AMLO is walking a high-wire above the abyss. However, AMLO with his neatly combed grey hair and calm beige face is not the beefy charismatic figure that Chavez is -- I can't quite picture AMLO on "Alo Presidente" joking with Castro and asking the crowd how they're doing. I can't picture AMLO using the rhetoric of Chavez in the Bronx, or claiming that he models his life on Jesus the anti-imperialist. AMLO doesn't have that kind of populist flare.
Yet, I do believe he sees that neoliberalism is destroying Mexico, will continue to suck it dry, and leave the country in worse poverty than it has been. I think he's a decent guy.
Meanwhile, in Oaxaca, the struggle is highlighted by the oblivious corruption of the PRI, in particular the government of Ulíses Ruiz. Our friends, pretty uniformly middle-class, will vote for AMLO on the Partido de la Revolución Democratica (PRD) ticket, not for the PRI or PAN. I believe that our friends are appalled by the poverty and corruption. Their own lives are still mightily attached to the social community, they don't chase neoliberal fantasies. But those who stand most to benefit from AMLO's election, the campesinos and the working poor, are still inclined toward the PRI. Why? Because a peso in hand is worth two in the future. The PRI has a stranglehold on money coming into the state, on expenditures destined mostly for basics: food supplies, roads, hospitals, schools. It uses its economic power to buy votes and bully dissidents, to hire assassins and deploy police and troops.
The education that will be required to encourage Oaxaqueños to vote for AMLO in the face of their rightly held terror, will be enormous. The Zapatistas, coming as they are to propose an alternative Left viewpoint, may in some ways educate but they will not take a short-term political position to avoid what I see as a neoliberal train-wreck. They have already been wrecked, and are now looking far down the road.
Too bad. They've left AMLO high and dry. With AMLO elected, Mexico, cautiously but firmly, might align with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) while that can still, if you'll excuse the expression, pay off - that is, while Venezuela, the financial power house, still has oil revenues to propel the enterprise. Mexico, because of the corruption surrounding such neoliberal excursions as PEMEX and the bank scandals, is nearly broke. Another six years of rapine will do it in, although of course by that time the USA may be down, too. As neoliberalism is self-defeating by digging the foundation out under its own feet, the PAN likewise has been self-defeating, only creating more poverty and more slogans. For the upcoming presidential election in 2006, it offers no attractive candidate. Meanwhile, the PRI has ruptured around the power struggle between Madrazo (a shit) against Elba Esther Gordillo (a shit-ess) and appears to be floundering.
Thus the open gate for AMLO to walk through is very real. The Mexican people have taken a firm stand against privatizing oil, electricity or water. The foundation for counter-neoliberal politics is already built.
When I went to hear AMLO, George didn't go, his quip being that he doubted that AMLO was in town to sew up the Jewish vote. Nevertheless, I wanted to hear for myself what AMLO would propose. I wondered if he'd been on the go for one of those twenty-four hour marathons. Not much energy. But the opening line, however weary his voice, served to tell me where he stands: “First, the poor.” In other words, first the people, first the social fabric, first the infrastructure, first self-sufficiency, first the environment, first education and health care.
Well, AMLO didn't say that. I did.