WORLDCRUNCH

Far-Left Frontrunner For Mexican Presidency May Get Help From Moscow

López Obrador holding a traditional Russian hat
López Obrador holding a traditional Russian hat
Alidad Vassigh

-Analysis-

MEXICO CITY — He has been a staple of Mexican politics for decades, having twice sought the presidency. The message is always the same: the moneyed classes must be taken down. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a hardline leftist rabble-rouser, has come close twice to clinching the top office in a country dripping with oil, wealth and corruption.

But now, less than six months ahead of general elections in July 2018, the man known throughout Mexico as AMLO may be closer than ever. Polls put him comfortably ahead of other candidates, raising the prospect of a left-wing populist heading a Latin American powerhouse economy and the United States' southern neighbor.

Some of López Obrador "s campaign appointments are meant to suggest he has moderated his socialist zeal, and he has vowed that this would be his last run for the presidency. If he fails, he said recently, he would go the Chingada, his estate, which is also a wordplay for "getting lost."

Polls, of course, are just polls, and more than anything the leftist's popularity suggests a broader anger at establishment politicians, which include the other leading aspirants. One is Ricardo Anaya, heading an unlikely alliance of conservatives, a "civic" party and the traditional Left, and the ruling party candidate José Antonio Meade, a competent former finance minister lagging for his toxic association with the much-loathed Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto, who can't run because of term limits.

AMLO's strength is the public disgust with, well, so much here: crime, corruption, vast income disparities and the conduct and arrogance of politicians. He has vowed he would "go crazy" on corruption in the institutions. He has said he could not "do miracles' but was "the only one" able to curb corruption. The other candidates are saying much the same, and probably not the first time in Mexico.

Anger is an opportunity.

López Obrador's main weakness is a certain distrust that hangs over him. Is he going to strike at the prosperous middle class with tax and labor laws? When he speaks in vague terms, he is suspected of hiding his true intentions. Clear proposals can be worse. He recently suggested that the state should negotiate with crime bosses. Still, part of the leftist establishment has been suggesting this for some years now, particularly with the failure of a hardline approach of the conservative PAN party and its last president, Felipe Calderón, whose war on crime in the early 2000s echoed President George W. Bush's war on terror. The present government has fared worse, moderating state violence but failing to reap a corresponding rise in security.

Leo Zuckermann asked in the national daily Excelsior if voters should take the risk of handing him the country to find out if he has moderated with age. One former education official recently said López Obrador had a "similar" leadership style to one of the biggest trade unionists, jailed for massive corruption, the former head of the national teachers' union Elba Esther Gordillo.

López Obrador's election would be expected to impact Mexico's foreign policy stances. The country is traditionally non-aligned but began markedly to harmonize positions with the West and the United States at the turn of this century, with the election of conservative presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. In spite of a return to a more "neutral" stance under Peña Nieto, it has had verbal spats with countries like Venezuela. That would probably stop with López Obrador. Precisely, it was accusations that he would turn Mexico into a Bolivarian state in emulation of the late president Hugo Chávez that may have proved his undoing in the 2006 elections. Chávez had to tell one interviewer he had "never met the gentleman," which was akin to helping him by omission. Today, there is a new Venezuela in town, called Russia, and the only candidate it could possibly favor is López Obrador.

Perhaps if fears that Russia would try somehow, somewhere, to help López Obrador into office, were entirely unfounded, the Russian ambassador in Mexico would not have bothered to recently insist he "is not acquainted" with him. The coming months will tell Mexican voters' fury with the state of their institutions is a stronger motivator than their dislike of a "meddling" power that is not traditionally seen in negative terms here — unlike the United States.

Perhaps the difference with López Obrador's candidacy this time is the economy. Hundreds of millions have lost jobs and income gaps have widened. States seem to be helping the rich, not the poor. People are angry, and for someone like López Obrador, that is an opportunity.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that there are two rounds of voting. In fact, Mexico's presidential election system assigns victory to the candidate who gets the most votes, even if it is less than 50%.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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