President AMLO? Leftist Populism Smells Triumph In Mexico

Leftist presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is Mexico's answer to Trump. AMLO's details are vague, but his poll numbers are rising.

AMLO, the presidential candidate at one of his rallies across Mexico.
AMLO, the presidential candidate at one of his rallies across Mexico.
Luis Rubio


MEXICO CITY - Mexico's general election, set for July 1, is becoming clearer every day. The fight is between two very different perspectives on life and government's role in development and daily life. Arrogance is facing redemption. A vast number of citizens are now sick and tired of business as usual in this country: the threat of crime, government corruption, unfulfilled promises and the clash of promises by politicians (of all stripes) and the harsh, daily reality. The offers made by all the candidates save one, sound frivolous if not banal. Each is implicitly offering "just what" Mexico needs, but for the average voter, they sound false after similar vows have been made for decades.

The success of the one candidate standing out in the polls, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, usually referred to as AMLO, is in offering something radically different: returning to a quiet life where the only promise is redemption. As with Donald Trump, he has managed to penetrate the people's subconscious, because quite simply he is not operating in the real world but in the world of voter disgust, wherein a good many Mexicans seem to be. When those of us who would fancy ourselves as living in the 21st century see him avoiding serious questions, evading answers or promising absurdities, we comfort ourselves thinking he lives in another world and that nobody in his right mind would vote for him. But the numbers say otherwise: his Messianic discourse is proving to be "redemptive," and assuring his success.

López Obrador has a grandiose vision of himself and his abilities, and of his presence, which he believes is enough to transform reality. In normal conditions, that is in a context of social peace, economic progress and reasonable optimism about the future, his political message and presence could hardly prosper. Everyone would see the absurdity of his proposals and especially his lack of realism. But like Trump, so many in Mexico are seeing in him a tool with which they can give those who have kept making false promises a slap in the face.

López Obrador's offer clashes with objective reality. But nobody cares, and the level of exasperation in Mexican society is such that for many voters anything is better than the standard fare. Anyone who cares to see the figures will see enormous advances in quality of life, longevity, healthcare, consumption and in many other objective indices, but none of these is relevant when voters are offended by government arrogance. This is nothing new in Mexico of course, but it seems to have ballooned out of proportion in this particular presidency. At least the previous governments understood that Mexicans were anxious for improvements and devoted their discourse to mitigating these annoyances. The present one is so cocksure it even lacks the ability, never mind humility, to understand that the main problem is its attitude.

He touts himself as the incarnation of "the people."

What sensible politician anywhere would think of mounting a media campaign based on complaining about citizens? That is precisely what this government has been doing through the six-year presidency, with propaganda clips like "That's enough complaining," or the more recent "Let's get our figures straight." With this evident arrogance and indifference to the public sentiment, it is not hard to see why AMLO is leading in polls.

Living as he does in a different world, AMLO makes proposals that are both cut off from history and dangerous for ignoring the contemporary world. His position on the new Mexico City airport is revealing, and like Trump's with his wall, essentially symbolic. Obviously, the existing airport is saturated, but like his famous "to hell with the institutions," it is a deliberate affront to all those he has accused of being arrogant and making money at the public expense. The posture (and strategy behind it) is impeccable.

Protests outside the Mining Palace in Mexico City before the presidential debates — Photo: German Eluniversal/ZUMA

Significantly, AMLO never refers to citizens because in his vision, there is no citizenry. He touts himself as the incarnation of "the people" because only he understands and represents it, ergo, his presence alone is enough to sweep away corruption and the "power mafia." In his world, checks and balances are bad (and unnecessary) and the institutions, instruments a powerful president can use to impose his vision. In other words, his project is essentially to curb personal liberties, the free market, trade treaties, an independent press and social (not to mention, business, union and civil) organizations, because all these curtail more or less, the president's ability to act as he pleases.

AMLO is touching a sensitive nerve in people and will only be thwarted with an equally arresting counter-proposal. And that must start with calling for change to the status quo, because therein lies the obstacle to the country's development. Unless we have this, the promise of "redemption" will continue to triumph.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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