This article was originally published in Greek on May 14, 2017. By Vagelis D. Marinakis, for avantgarde. Translated by PK.
One does not need to be a political analyst or historian to understand why Central and Latin America are considered to be the «back yard» of the Empire, an area where the US exercises unrivaled political and economic influence. Cuba, Guatemala, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua, San Salvador, Puerto Rico, the list of interventions (both direct and indirect) over the last century is long and bloody – and continues to this day. Last year we had touched on the case of Brazil and the wider plan for the destabilization of the BRICS, which in this case passed through the overthrow of President Dilma Rousseff, with the valuable help of the domestic Right. On the sidelines of the Trump election and the rise of tensions between the United States and Mexico on the issue of migration, but also due to the developments that are bound to come with the 2018 elections and the possible victory of leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO), we take a look in the case of Mexico – as both one possible source of further ignition and as an excellent example of Washington’s ability to control (in many ways) the developments in the New World.
Historical background. From the 19th to the 21st Century
From the war of 1846-1848, the close diplomatic relationship between the two countries during the period when Porfirio Diaz was all-powerful and the Border War between Mexican guerrillas and the American army in the midst of the Mexican Revolution until the Cold War, the signing of NAFTA and today’s tensions, the coexistence of the two countries has ranged from harmonious to problematic.
Mexico was the first victim of American expansionism, as the US state became what it is nowadays through land theft from the neighboring country (about 2,500,000 km2). Mexico was also used as a field of imposing counter-revolutionary policies, for instance the pursuit of the forces of radical revolutionary Pancho Villa from March 1916 to February 1917 under the orders of President Woodrow Wilson, and the murder of the newly elected President Francisco Madero in February 1917 with the active participation of US Ambassador Lane Wilson. At the same time, as the first casualties from the US troops were being reported, the US Army was building a wall in Nogales.
After a decade of adaptation and instability, Mexico discovered the party whose name would become synonymous with power for the rest of the century. The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), a child of the authoritarian President Plutarco Elías Calles, who ruled the country directly for a four-year period and indirectly (through puppet presidents) for another six years, represented a corporatist solution to the problem of the endless factional infighting that had erupted among the leaders of the Mexican Revolution.
Although it begun as a political machine of Calles on the pretext of consolidating the ideals of the Revolution, with the ultimate aim of asserting his own domination in the political life of the country, the party developed into a peculiar formation that combined socialist, liberal and conservative elements, with each of its tendencies representing a different version of national unity and the ideals of the Revolution (anti-clericalism, land redistribution, social justice). One of its central features was the carrot and stick policy in regard to the trade unions and the Communist Left.
In the framework of this political particularity, there have been economically liberal and profoundly American presidents (Miguel Alemán Valdés, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, Miguel de la Madrid) as well as socialist-leaning ones (Lazaro Cardenas, Adolfo Lopez Mateos and Luis Echeverría Álvarez), who advocated the redistribution of wealth, national independence and limitation of US influence, constantly wary of not rupturing bilateral relations and with a post-war record of oppressing students and organizations of the Communist Left. The 1982 debt crisis and the lending from the IMF forced the country into the surgical table of neoliberalism, causing it to become increasingly bound to Washington’s chariot. In December 1992, the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, was signed, providing for the elimination of Mexico-US-Canada tariffs, and in 1995 the Zedillo government would receive a $20 billion loan after Bill Clinton’s interference in order to solve the monetary crisis that had rocked the country. Forced until recently to keep its distance from US policy for the sake of its “sister states” of Latin and Central America, Mexico would soon be called to pay for the help it received from the US by supporting its “War on Terror”. Between 2002 and 2005, much of the country’s resources were wasted to fight the alleged terrorist threat, as Mexico had been identified as a possible basis for Al Qaeda operations, a forecast which was not confirmed.
But the «services» to the omnipotent neighbor did not stop there. The alignment with the United States has been gradually extended in regard to the relations with the rest of the continent. The President who broke the (corrupt) PRI domination of Mexican politics for the sake of the right-wing PAN, Vicente Fox – a Harvard graduate and Coca-Cola overseer for the whole of Latin America – marked the first such shift, with his behavior towards Fidel Castro in the United Nations Assembly in 20021 and with the condemnation of Cuba by the UN Conference of 2004 with the participation of Mexico2. In a recent interview, he did not hesitate to include Chavez, Castro and Mexico’s left-wing presidential candidate, Lopez Obrador, in the «gang of populism» 3. The change of course on a series of issues concerning the country’s relations with the rest of Latin America was summed up in the Castaneda doctrine, which emphasized the tightening of ties with the Central American states and Colombia as expressed in the Mesoamerica Integration and Development Project, which would create an opposite pole to the left-wing policies that emerged around Venezuela’s Chavez. The doctrine was followed in a milder form by Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderon.
Despite trying to re-establish relations with Cuba, current President Enrique Peña Nieto has not neglected to meet with the Venezuelan opposition ‘activist’ and wife its leader, Lilian Tintori, in an effort to further pressure the Maduro government4, while also using the Organization of American States as leverage.
The role of the Left
The history of communist parties of the country has been marked from the beginning by repression, popular struggles, a mismatch between parliamentary presence / action on the street, and various flirts with the PRI. The largest of all, the Mexican Communist Party (Partido Comunista Mexicano, PCM) was founded in 1917; it was outlawed a few years by law, and was legalized again in 1935 during the presidency of Cardenas. In 1946, the electoral law changed and the party was unable to meet the requirements (30,000 members and presence in 21 of the 31 states), which pushes it to adopt a logic of supplementing the PRI from the left. In 1977, with the change of the electoral law, the party would be able to take part in the 1979 parliamentary elections, taking 5% of the vote, having clearly adopted more moderate positions. In 1981, along with three other smaller socialist and leftist parties, they will form the United Socialist Party of Mexico (Partido Socialista Unificado de México, PSUM). The PSUM would maintain a decent presence on the street and electoral level before it was renamed to Mexican Socialist Party (Partido Mexicano Socialista, PMS) and incorporated in 1989 into the newly formed Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD), created as a reaction of the left PRI faction against the ruling party’s neoliberal and authoritarian course.
Some would argue that the establishment of the PRD meant the death of the Left in Mexico5, as smaller organizations such as the Socialist Workers Party (PRT) had little potential to influence the developments, but that is not exactly true. Initially, there were other left-wing parties, such as the Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolutionary Party (PARM) or the People’s Socialist Party (PPS), acting as satellites of the PRI, criticizing it prior to the elections but not actually running against it. At the same time, the parties that made up the PSUM and the PMS had long abandoned the prospect of social upheaval (let alone the prospect of an armed insurrection), partly because of the harsh suppression, partly because of the shift to reformist positions due to the painful recent experience of Chile, but also due to the material links that had developed between the PRI and the leadership of the trade unions parties. The PRD was therefore the expected outcome of a long road of defeats and compromise – rather than a sudden strategic choice.
The prevailing atmosphere and the AMLO phenomenon
From that point onwards, the PRD (which is considered by many to have been a victim of electoral fraud in the 1988 presidential elections) has been associated with the struggles of social movements against neoliberal policies and corruption of the established political system, while at the same time striving to find balance between the various internal party factions and the Mafia-style political repression that killed 250 members of the party in the early years6. The victory of Fox and the halt to the PRI’s domination created favorable conditions for the further rise of the party and, in 2006, the former Mayor of Mexico City Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also known as AMLO) had a good chance of winning the presidency under the umbrellaff the «Alliance for Everyone’s Good», which included the PRD and two smaller left parties. In another electoral process that was described by many observers as a fraud and caused massive demonstrations across the country for months, AMLO lost to Felipe Calderon by 0.5%. Outgoing President Fox was accused of trying to influence the media during the elections while the ruling PAN hysterically presented Obrador as a national risk.
Building on this momentum, AMLO formed the MO.RE.NA. (Movement for National Renaissance) in order to boost his candidacy for the forthcoming presidential elections. Although Obrador’s electoral program was nowhere near radical (its proposals concerned the reduction of taxes on the popular strata, the cessation of privatizations, the creation of low-cost housing and the saving of resources from salary cuts of senior officials), the status quo was determined not to risk it. Thus, as revealed7, then President Nieto gave about $60 million to the biggest television network of the Spanish-speaking world, Televisa, in order to receive preferential treatment in its coverage, and especially against Obrador, who was considered the main opponent (codename «Handcock”).. This particular network team has been working on Nieto’s behalf since the Congress’s mid-term elections in 2009. At the same time, the PRI was accused of cooperating with the Soriana supermarket chain in distributing prepaid cards worth 100 to 700 pesos in exchange for people’s votes8.
Of course, the forces of the counter-revolution did not have domestic help only. They also had help from outside. In 2006, the New York Times did not hesitate to label Obrador and his voter ‘paranoid’ 9. Today, with the 2018 elections approaching, the pressure is intensifying. The Economist is talking about a dangerous populist (because of his opposition to privatization policy)10 and the Atlantic magazine is ranking him second in the list of Trump-like politicians around the world11.
The stakes, the limits of popular-frontism and the tasks of revolutionaries
After the defeat of 2012, MO.RE.NA. turned from a movement into a party, among others due to the fact that the PRD was dominated by the conservative wing led by Jesus Grijalva, which marked the shift of the party to more conservative positions, as reflected in the «Agreement for Mexico», an agreement reached by the three larger parties on a series of structural neo-liberal reforms. The party managed to win the election of the local parliament in Mexico City and has 38 MPs in the National House of Representatives. Today, given the unprecedentedly low popularity of President Nieto13, Obrador seems to be the candidate most likely to win the upcoming elections.
The MO.RE.NA. election program and AMLO’s rhetoric revolve around the well-known axes of the ruling Latin American Left. Radical democracy, participatory budgets in the context of a more democratic model of self-government, nationalization of key sectors of the economy, halting the neoliberal onslaught. AMLO himself states that he is an admirer of Allende’s heritage, and speaks of the need of a new social contract, that is a mutually beneficial class compromise. At the same time, he mentions his country’s right to resort to the UN on Trump’s rhetoric and attitude towards the issue of the wall separating the two countries12.
The well-known pattern of the social front, a transformation of classical popular-frontism, that promises a biased (bourgeois) democracy, is being served this time in a country with 20 million people living below the poverty line, with the favelas being a part of everyday life and with omnipotent cartels – despite the high-casualties war on drugs waged by the Calderon administration. But there is an issue we need to address before we decide whether AMLO will be a successful or failed version of left-wing social democracy, if he will end up like Andreas Papandreou, Tsipras, Hollande or Maduro. And this issue is whether there is a political subject to the left of MO.RE.NA. and its proposal.
Some will point towards Chiapas and the Zapatistas. With all due respect to the comrades and the whole history of the EZLN, the revolutionary part of the adventure of Subcomandante Marcos and his comrades has been over since the «other campaign» in 2006, when the Zapatista army informed several left-wing organizations about its long-term vision, while a few years earlier, under the Fox presidency, it was informing the Congress about its decision to advance its community model in the wider region of Chiapas. It may be a tragic irony, but the first postmodern revolution that created an initial enthusiasm in the world of the Left and Anarchy worldwide has turned into an armed, self-governing group.
Without any illusions about the political program of Obrador and his party, which in the long run leads either to subordination or to conflict with the bourgeois world and the plans of the counter-revolution, an election of Obrador is an option to be tested in a context of hysteric opposition from the regime and global neo-liberalism. Its failure may create conditions for the more radical elements to further their agenda (provided that they are willing and able). Success (in the sense of AMLO) will add a thorn to the heel of the Empire, with a leftist leader at its back. However, history has to go ahead and be tested in the streets and avenues of the world, not in the self-management festivals that describe – oh so clearly – the steel walls separating reformists from revolutionaries.
In the seventh book of Aeneid , Virgil has Hera saying the following: «Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo». That is, «If I cannot bend the higher powers, I will make [the river] Acheron rise up». It would be wrong to believe that a force in the tradition of left-wing, Chavez-like governments could curtail the political representation of Mexican, American or world capital to the extent that we want. But the task for those who aspire to be revolutionaries is not to repeat promises for some kind of abstract workers’ paradise, but to use the dark river of popular anger and despair to achieve their goals. The fate of the revolution will be decided by those who, with the necessary creative estrangement and insurgent boldness, impose it as a political option. For our Utopia to become a reality, it is often required that other roads have been tested. Beyond that, responsibility is ours.
6, Sara Schatz,Murder and politics on Mexico