July 04, 2018

Andrés Manuel López Obrador

Andrés Manuel López Obrador

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mexico’s establishment party got kicked to the curb in Sunday’s election, winning only 16 percent of the vote, which should remind us that we are constantly told two rather contradictory things about immigration from Latin America:

—First, immigrants are pouring in from the banana republics of Central America not because Central America is (permanently) poor, but because Central America is (supposedly only temporarily) plagued by criminal violence.

—Second, there’s no need to worry about the overall number of immigrants coming to America because net immigration from Mexico is negative, or at least it was the last anybody checked in roughly 2009–2012. That’s because Mexico is finally (and permanently) not poor.

Yet Mexico, like Central America, has Sicario levels of crime, with the number of homicides hitting a new record last year. Further, crime in Mexico has been proliferating, from lucrative drug smuggling into the United States to chaotic domestic crimes like punching holes in oil pipelines and derailing trains.

Indeed, the proliferation of train robberies in Mexico sounds like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid crossed with Lawrence of Arabia. The Associated Press reports:

In the first quarter of this year, six times a day on average, robbers blocked tracks or loosened rails to stop trains, leading to dangerous derailments.

And yet we never are told that Mexico’s criminality might be a good reason to, say, build the Wall.

You see, gang violence in Central America drives emigration to the U.S., while gang violence in Mexico does not. Or something. Nobody has really thought about it. Mexico doesn’t particularly interest high-IQ Americans.

Mexico, while reasonably prosperous, is a mess at present. As in some of the Central American banana republics, such as Honduras, the legitimacy of the government to fight crime is in doubt. Many in Mexico see the government as merely another cartel, albeit one with classier shoes. The AP notes that Mexico is facing:

…a new kind of crime involving whole neighborhoods defying police and military personnel…. Such “socialized” or “mass” crimes are spreading in Mexico as entire communities empty freight trains of merchandise or steal hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel from pipelines.

“The logic of the people is that they see politicians and officials stealing big time…and they see themselves as having the same right to steal as the big-time politicians,” said Edgardo Buscaglia, an international crime expert and research fellow at Columbia University.

“The two nationalists, AMLO and Trump, appeared to get off to a good start, talking for a half hour on the telephone on Monday.”

We are constantly told that Central Americans are flocking to America to “escape violence.” Yet in Mexico the vast increase in criminal violence since 2006 has coincided with a lower level of emigration to the U.S., probably because the Mexican economy prospers from the drug trade. On the other hand, if disorder continues to spread in Mexico, the economy might well be hurt, which would make mass migrations to a once-again prospering America more likely.

Two big questions are whether the breakdown in Mexico will worsen over the next five months due to the upcoming regime change on Dec. 1, 2018; and whether the subsequent six years of a leftist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (a.k.a. AMLO), will turn out more like Venezuela or Bolivia.

The main rule of Mexican politics since the late 1920s is no Presidents-for-Life. The winning generals of the Mexican Revolution of a century ago kept assassinating one another in their peacetime struggle for supreme power, so in 1929 Plutarco Elías Calles founded the oxymoronically entitled Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to cartelize rule via a strict term limit of one six-year presidential term. Under the vaguely left-of-center syndicalist PRI, there was to be no need to murder your rivals: If you live long enough, your faction would get its time at the trough.

The PRI earned the nickname “the Perfect Dictatorship” by taming Mexico’s tendencies toward anarchy and greed within a stifling order.

This one-term limit worked fairly well in some ways, but a side effect turned out to be that Mexico often (1976, 1982, 1994) suffered an economic breakdown during the last year of an outgoing president as his amigos tried to loot the country before the new gang came in on Dec. 1.

Could that happen this year?

Nobody knows. As the 19th-century dictator Porfirio Diaz lamented with proto–Yogi Berra logic upon finding himself overthrown after decades in power, “Nothing ever happens in Mexico until it happens.”

The PRI was never exactly a one-party dictatorship; it preferred to steal elections only when it had to, as in the consequential 1988 election when the PRI flagrantly cheated the party of the left out of the presidency.

The subsequent Salinas regime then embraced neoliberalism, signing the elder Bush’s NAFTA deal and selling off most of the state’s monopolies to PRI pals like Carlos Slim. After the Salinas family’s rivals tended to get assassinated in 1993–94, the PRI was abashed enough to let the right-of-center PAN take power in 2000. George W. Bush expected to be as close allies with PAN’s Vicente Fox as his father had been with PRI’s Salinas, although growing skepticism among both countries’ electorates made Bush’s plan of trading more business access for more immigration bumpier than expected.

PAN narrowly edged AMLO’s leftist party in 2006 when a late-arriving truck full of ballots made the difference in the vote count.

The PRI bounced back into the presidency in 2012, with the young, handsome, but slightly dim-looking Enrique Peña Nieto, who would make a good character in Anchorman 3: the kind of vaguely Hispanic local newscaster you see on small-market TV stations all over the Southwest.

AMLO, after throwing a tantrum upon losing in 2006 and losing again in 2012, gained the respect of his countrymen by keeping at it, campaigning in every single town in Mexico. Moreover, AMLO doesn’t appear to be particularly crooked or greedy for a Mexican politico (as one PRI grandee once explained, “A politician who is poor is a poor politician”).

The left party has never held the presidency in Mexico since serious partisan competition started a generation ago. It will probably do the legitimacy of the Mexican state some good to have a democratic transfer of power to the left.

It’s possible that AMLO will turn out as catastrophic for Mexico as the left has been in Venezuela.

AMLO’s track record as a successful mayor of Mexico City is reminiscent of Turkish supremo Erdogan’s résumé as an energetic mayor of the similarly gigantic Istanbul. Erdogan had a good first few years, but his Islamism led him to jail countless journalists and his egomania to imagine that backing the civil war against Assad in Syria would make him the moral leader of the Islamist world.

Fortunately, Latin America isn’t Islamic and is remote from Saudi meddling.

Also, AMLO is coming to power at a time when Latin American socialists are chastened by the failures of their recent decade of ascendancy in South America.

Thus, in 2018, AMLO campaigned less on dogmatic socialism than on a Trump-era nationalist populism skeptical of globalist neoliberalism.

For example, AMLO critiques NAFTA for banning Mexico’s traditional tariffs that protected its small corn farmers, whose ancestors had been growing corn for thousands of years. The beneficiaries were massively efficient Midwestern American farmers, whose cheap corn imports pushed huge numbers of Mexican peasants into illegally migrating to the U.S. over the last quarter of a century.


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