Ten months ago Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was elected for a six-year term as Mexico’s president. Since then, budget austerity, violence, militarization, concessions to Donald Trump, and religiosity as a culture of government are stones in the shoes that could hinder advances in Mexico’s Fourth Transformation (4aT)—the label given to AMLO’s movement.
Austerity policies under neoliberalism have had a double function. The first was to reduce the size of the State in order to open new spaces for a private sector. The second was to put the whole society to work to pay debts accumulated by failed private businesses and public bankruptcies that occurred with each successive financial crisis: 1976, 1983, 1987, 1994, 2001, 2008-09.
Austerity policies don’t solve the problem, they make things worse
The worst example of waste is Mexico allocating 725 billion pesos of the budget (around $37 billion) to service an illegitimate and unsustainable public debt. In Mexico, 4aT assumes that stiff constraints on spending – promoted as stability – will take us out of the pit of stagnation. On the contrary – the extreme application of austerity for the sake of a “fiscal surplus” is aggravating the drop in economic activity, rising unemployment, shortages in areas of public health and education and financial parasitism on public finances.
For several years Mexico has experienced a humanitarian crisis on par with a country at war
All of this has been cleverly exploited by neo-liberal intellectuals, by PANistas (members of PAN, a conservative political party), pharmaceutical and energy entrepreneurs, the media, financial powers such as risk-rating agencies, the army and the church. Arguing “the defense of the rule of law,” conservatives and the ultra-right have made an alliance with the judiciary to block many of the AMLO government’s initiatives, and to besiege it politically.
The political uses of violence
For several years Mexico has experienced a humanitarian crisis on par with a country at war, with hundreds of thousands dead, tens of thousands missing, thousands of clandestine burials throughout the country, and hundreds of journalists and militants of social organizations killed.
The intensified violence in the country might seem to be the action of special operations forces, because they pursue a coldly calculated political impact on governance. Or they are literally spasms from the perverse dynamic that left Mexico with a brutal ten years of “war on drugs.”
Moreno, the dominant legislative party, offered an end to that war, giving a green light to a National Guard. But the Guard is in the hands of the armed forces and the armed forces, thanks to commitments with Donald Trump, has the novel function of containing migrations from Central America and Mexico. So much for the proposal to make Mexico a “sanctuary for migrants.”
Paying for the follies of the US
The current administration refused to pay for the wall Trump wants on the US-Mexico border, only to fall prey to the expense of mobilizing the military to contain migration. These migrations are a direct result of US free trade policies, climate change, hunger and neo-liberal political violence.
Restructuring Mexican politics to preserve its secular roots
For this and other reasons, there is an urgent need to reorganize Mexico’s social fabric. This reorganization, however, cannot be like the one happening in the United States. There, a right wing neoconservative movement is joining with the Evangelical church to create a cultural project on the national and international level. This cultural project raises many questions even as it opposes abortion and promotes misogynist, homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic attitudes.
Carmen Aristegui’s journalism team has warned that the Ministry of the Interior is determined to radically rethink State-Church relations. Their effort began with changes in the design of the National Development Plan, and has continued with concessions by the Federal Telecommunications Institute, using church leaders disguised as NGOs as keynote speakers at rallies (such as the Bellas Arts opening in Tijuana, where religious leaders were celebrated—but later went to jail).
Such measures demonstrate the danger of changing the historical secular root of the Mexican State.
A stone in your shoe will hobble you
Other challenges are accumulating on the left and on the right. The difference is that the right is relying on the judiciary (like some members of “United Mexicans Against Corruption” who blame the government for almost 30 violations of the rule of law). Some decisions are slow and clumsy while others are conducted with speed, leaving communities who are directly affected in a dangerous, politically expensive limbo.
We knew that the road would be long and winding, but be warned: it will be very difficult to achieve success walking with stones in our shoes.
Alejandro Alvarez Bejar is a professor of Economics at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). He sends WIP periodic dispatches on Mexican politics. This translation is by Enrique Quintero.