Historical elections: Mexico de fiesta?

On July 1, 2018, Mexicans could not believe the results of the largest elections in our country’s history (more than 3,000 positions were in play at the federal, state and local levels). The new left party from López Obrador, Morena, won the presidential seat with 53% (more than 30 million votes) and simple majority and majority in both chambers of the Congress. They became the leading political force. Unprecedented. People literally cried in celebration. Small entrepreneurs promised free food, free services and gifts if López Obrador would win. Many fulfilled their promises. Mexico was “de fiesta”. Did society beat, for once, the corrupt and violent system?[1]

These elections took place under some of the worst circumstances the country has ever faced: a climate of unbearable violence, a failing neoliberal economy with every growing inequality and a tradition of pervasive impunity and corruption.

A climate of unbearable violence

Mexico carries on its shoulders 12 years of a war on drugs: more than 200,000 persons killed, 30,000 persons disappeared and skyrocketing levels of violence. The families of at least 230,000 disappeared or killed persons have been left destroyed. 2017 was by far the bloodiest year on record (more than 30,000 persons killed) but it seems 2018 will surpass it. On May this year, an average of 93 persons were killed a day, or almost 4 persons an hour.[2]

No one is left untouched: a friend, an uncle, your sister, the neighbor, your son, yourself. Everyone has a story that meant an imminent risk to his or her life or someone they personally know.

A neoliberal economy of inequality and impunity

The continued neoliberal policies that started on the 1980s and consolidated with NAFTA in 1994, left an indebted stagnating national economy of cheap labor and cheap resources. Once a food and oil independent country, today Mexico imports corn and fuel (both once the basis of our diet and our economy). Against frozen industrialized cheap meat and crops, Mexican farmers in the sector of agriculture and livestock could not compete. Meanwhile, the businesses that arrived and continue to arrive in the hand of our northern neighbors, actively neglect environmental, health and labor standards with the endorsement of the Mexican government. Foreign mining companies in Mexico have polluted and destroyed large ecosystems while exploiting amounts of minerals comparable to Spanish colonial times.[3] Wages since NAFTA stagnated while the profits of the foreign companies increased through time (for example the strong automotive industry). NAFTA was good for the elites on both sides of the border: resources and goods move freely towards those who can afford them. Their productivity increases. But, common people are not allowed to move freely[4]. Inequality invariably increases. As of the last studies from CONEVAL, 43.6% of the Mexican population is poor (53.4 million persons).[5] Many Mexicans, due to the lack of any opportunity, find no other alternative but to join the drug cartels. On the other side, Mexico’s elite counts Carlos Slim among the top ten richest men in the world.[6] The current president, Peña Nieto, took the last steps towards the liberalization of all markets. His “Pacto por México” stroke the last blow with all-encompassing reforms to privatize and dismantle the unions of the energy, education and health sectors. Currently, Mexico is literally being dismantled.

All of the above happened under the framework of total impunity and corruption scandals that involved the president and his closest allies. The scandals included the acquisition of luxurious buildings, triangulation of money, huge infrastructure contracts given to doubtful companies and even medicating water instead of chemotherapy to children with cancer, among many others. No justice has been served.

The role of society

In this context, civil society learned to mobilize itself online and offline for its self-preservation. The institutional vacuum has been partially replaced by organized civilians (when not by the drug cartels): courageous mothers, journalists, lawyers, teachers and activists. People inform, share and organize themselves despite the risks. Many times, they do so through social media.[7] People began to look by themselves for the disappeared relatives, to demand justice from the courts, to provide trustworthy information and to organize even their own government and protection. In that context, many persons decided to support the new left of López Obrador. They motivated each other to vote for the new left through a popular, chaotic and ever-grounded grassroots campaign that spent little money compared to the biggest three political parties.

Each vote counted: it was a landslide win.

The elected president

Picture: Mario DelgadoSi

The elected-president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is a long-standing left politician (his third time running for the presidency[8]) that walks the talk. Despite numerous attempts to discredit him, no serious investigation can link him to corruption scandals. He lives in a middle-class home and travels economy (even today as elected president). His campaign (compared to his competitors, who remained far from the reality of the lay person), focused on ending the levels of violence, providing social justice and ending impunity and corruption. It echoed. He gained wide support and several intellectuals and respectful politicians are part of his closest circle.

His first policy proposal is a cut to the presidential salary -his salary- by 60% of the current president’s salary. His plan of republican austerity will implement the forgotten constitutional section that states that no political position can earn more than the president. The political establishment is scared. The hyper-expensive projects of Peña Nieto will be reviewed: from building a new airport in Texcoco over unstable land and at unbelievable costs (paid with the pension funds of Mexicans) to the acquirement of a luxurious airplane for presidential comfort. The education, health and energy reforms will be reviewed. López Obrador aims to build anew the internal economy (the oil industry, agriculture, livestock and public infrastructure).

His progressive agenda includes: the legalization of abortion, the legalization of certain drugs, increasing the minimum salary, starting an amnesty peace process and taking the soldiers out of the streets.

Today, López Obrador and his cabinet (50% women and 50% men) act as if they are in power. They set the agenda and the news. He will take office until the 1st of December 2018.


Meanwhile, the political establishment (PRI, PAN and PRD) is taking whatever they can: emptying governmental offices from equipment and information; and proposing laws to protect their privileges before they leave (if not, they are trying to join the ranks of the new government). Last month, the government of Peña Nieto took a loan for 10 billion dollars from the US for “general purposes of the government” on top of the actual record debt. The US Department recently approved the request of the Mexican government to purchase missiles and other equipment for at least 41 million dollars.[9] This is all happening four months before the actual government leaves office.

The newly elected left government will face unprecedented challenges and civil society will follow carefully their actions.

The larger picture

Despite the massive electoral victory, the future remains dim beyond the national particularities and relevance of the Mexican election. It is within the broader framework of a neoliberal capitalistic world economy that the margin of movement of the newly elected government remains limited. According to the Zapatista Subcomandante Galeano[10], the hidra capitalista –capitalist hydra- reaches everywhere and everyone exploiting resources and people: a trail of environmental disasters, increasing inequality, impunity and corruption.

Mexico has been a good student[11], leaded by the naïve and shortsighted Mexican elite educated in the US under the huge influence of the Chicago boys. As expected, Mexico enriched the creators of such agreement and their friends. As expected, it failed incredibly for the rest of society.

The larger picture is that this is not a particular problem of Mexico. This story of inequality, corruption, environmental disasters and violence repeats itself in countries near and far. Unfortunately, we have been unable to provide a credible and expansive alternative to the actual economic system. We have seen once and again that countries are locked up to the “invisible hand”, not as a result of natural laws that economic theory explains. The “invisible hand” is mainly a result of the actual and hidden power structures that control resources and people across countries.

The Zeitgeist

The vote of Mexican society has given a clear signal that Mexicans had enough of the status quo. The frustration of society repeats itself with Brexit in the UK, the vote to leave the EU by Greece some years ago, the election of a character like Donald Trump in the US, the rise of the far right in Europe, among others. Society responds to the symptoms. But, are we able to confront the real problem?

If there is a solution to the current economic and social situation of Mexico, it lies -to a good extent- beyond its borders north and south. The neoliberal agenda does not stop: the discussions for the renovation of NAFTA are underway and so is the EU-Mexico Trade Agreement.[12] Both of them will further lock up the country in a system that has utterly failed the Mexican people and will further exacerbate the violence, the displacement, the environmental disasters, the corruption and impunity in favor of the rights of, not the multinational corporations, but the rights of those behind the transnational corporations. All in the name of something called profit with the aim of a cancerous growth.

Mexico “de fiesta”?

Among the first ones expressing and rebelling against the dangers of neoliberal capitalism are the Zapatistas from the poorest region of Mexico. They stated on their uprising, on the 1st of January 1994, that the implementation of NAFTA (and effectively all other treaties that would follow) meant a “death sentence” to indigenous communities and other ways of life. Time has proven it is a death sentence to life itself.

Is Mexico “de fiesta” with the election of López Obrador? Just for a split second (we are Mexicans after all). But let’s not forget that as the core problem lies beyond borders, so do the solutions. The evolution of extreme weather, inequality and displacement of people are constant and stark reminders.

After López Obrador won the election, the Zapatistas stated: “we changed the foreman, but the farmer remains the same”.

Posdata: Is it, indeed, that all roads lead to Rome –neoliberal capitalism-? Because today Rome is on fire and we are running out of time to change the farmer on a global scale. Some, like Mexico, face the consequences and are running out of time sooner than others.


[1] After all, the elections happened despite the brutal murder of more than 100 politicians and candidates during the campaign time and hundreds of candidates left the race in fear of their lives, the pervasive culture of vote buying in the history of electoral frauds and the control of mainstream media promoting the establishment candidates and many fake news.

[2] Source : http://www.businessinsider.fr/us/violent-crime-in-mexico-may-2018-deadliest-month-since-1988-2018-6

[3] Mexico country mining guide (2016) KPMG Global Mining Institute. Source : https://assets.kpmg.com/content/dam/kpmg/pdf/2016/03/mexico-mining-country-guide.pdf

[4] Mexico and the US have the longest border between a developed country and a third world country. It is a cemetery for all those who fail to cross. More information: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/05/04/us/texas-border-migrants-dead-bodies.html

[5] Source: https://www.coneval.org.mx/Medicion/Paginas/PobrezaInicio.aspx

[6] A big winner of NAFTA, Carlos Slim bought the telecommunications infrastructure of the whole country.

[7] Social media provided an invaluable instrument of credible information regarding political issues (after its long history of providing updates regarding violent events).

[8] Many irregularities pervaded the last two presidential elections making it seem more than plausible that López Obrador lost because of electoral fraud.

[9] Source: https://navaltoday.com/2018/01/08/mexico-buying-harpoon-ram-missiles-mk-54-torpedo-for-sigma-10514-patrol-vessel/

[10] Previously known as Subcomandante Marcos, one of the most outspoken and far-reaching characters of the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas are indigenous communities from Mexico that, who rebelled in 1994 against globalization and NAFTA. Despite time, have been able to keep their way of life and continue struggling to protect it.

[11] Mexico was one of the first countries to sign such an extensive and binding free trade agreement.

[12] Both treaties have a particular emphasis on intellectual property rights, requirements on « rules of origin », little to no regard to environmental or human rights, and the controversial investment provisions protecting foreign direct investment for losses on future profits.


Brennpunkt Drëtt Welt est édité par Action Solidarité Tiers Monde
136-138, rue Adolphe Fischer L-1521 Luxembourg RCS F6030 www.astm.lu